Bradley Beal was working his act off for reporters, attempting to ease the mind of Washington fans still not sure if their All-Star guard’s All-Star-caliber shooting has truly returned in his first year back from a broken right foot.
“Is this the Blake Griffin of the 2016 playoffs, or is this the …” he pondered, before giving a figurative thumbs up to Griffin, who nearly spearheaded the Los Angeles Clippers’ NBA Finals run.
“I ain’t worried about last year,” Beal said. “This is a new year, and I don’t think I need to rehash everything that happened last year. I’m just focusing on this year and trying to be my best.”
Now, Beal, in his fourth season, isn’t trying to rehash much of anything he did last year. He is shooting an NBA-best 53.8 percent from the field and a league-best 41.3 percent from three-point range as the Washington Wizards seek their first playoff berth since 2011. Beal’s totals are well above the career highs of 41.4 percent from three-point range and 45.8 percent from the field set in his second season, 2012-13.
The Wizards are at the top of the Eastern Conference for the first time since John Wall played in his second game in 2013, leading the Toronto Raptors by a game and 1 1/2 games. Even with their ailing starting center Marcin Gortat, Washington is 31-16 at home and 19-28 on the road.
Asked before Wednesday’s game in Washington about the opposition — a frustrating Brooklyn Nets team that’s 21-32 — Beal said: “That’s who they are. They make you earn wins. You might not be on top of your game, but if you give them every opportunity to win that game, they will. That’s what they do. That’s why they’re the third-worst record in the NBA, and that’s why we know we’re going to have to come out and compete and be right.”
Barring a major collapse, this will almost certainly be the Wizards’ third straight playoff appearance, and Beal is playing some of the best basketball of his life. Last year, he would have had a chance to compete for an All-Star spot but wasn’t selected. The same could happen again this year, though he played badly in the game’s All-Star game.
Given how well the Wizards have played together — with Wall doing a great job in corralling the ball, Nene playing phenomenal defense, Beal getting his timing back on three-pointers, and Otto Porter Jr. providing consistent offense off the bench — any criticism of Beal would not be heard all the way from his corporate home in Georgia. His 36-point game in the Wizards’ biggest victory in months has solidified him as a top-tier player, and his game-changing long-range shooting more than shows that the Wizards are not a one-man show.
“I think a lot of it comes with chemistry,” Beal said. “It’s always hard to go in there as a first-year starter and come in and do what I do. I think me and Marcin got the ball movement going and we were able to find opportunities and guys were able to knock them down. The biggest thing was being able to get guys involved and be more aggressive and have a physical presence out there, keep guys off of me.”
But the top of Beal’s game will always come from behind the three-point line. It’s been difficult to stop. His 110 makes through 41 games are the most in his career and the second-most by a point guard in that span. At the rate he’s shooting, he’s on pace to surpass his career high of 178 (set in 2015-16) set in 2015-16.
“The ball is moving and guys are open and it’s going in,” Beal said. “Every shot, to me, is good. It’s just the ball is going in more and more. That makes it easier to have fun when the ball is going in more.”