Sports

Wizards Enter All-Star Break with Optimism

Washington polished off the Minnesota Timberwolves by 16 points in a blowout win on Feb. 27 while looking to control the Southeast Division. However, the Wizards couldn’t find any answers against the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies the following two games.

Despite Wizards star shooting guard Bradley Beal scoring 46 points against Boston, Washington struggled to find any rhythm offensively, shooting 45.2 percent from the floor and only 28.1 percent from beyond the arc.

The next loss came at home on March 2 against the Grizzlies, 125-111, in a match where Memphis took control from start to finish. Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant put on a scoring clinic, pouring in 35 points and dishing out 10 assists in a double-double performance.

Russell Westbrook scored 23 points and dished out 15 assists, but Washington was its own worst enemy by committing 22 turnovers. Memphis was the aggressor throughout, scoring 11 second-chance points and broke out to a 23-point advantage in the third quarter.

“We kind of let them dictate the game with their defensive energy,” Beal said. “They were handsy, got into passing lanes … we were sometimes careless with the ball.

Washington was riding high, posting seven wins in eight games (since Feb. 14) backed by high effort and defensive play before losing two straight. That was a setback, but the Wizards made a statement before the All-Star break, taking down the Los Angeles Clippers 119-117 on March 4.

The Wizards dispatched the Clippers in comeback fashion, overcoming a 16-point deficit where Washington went on a 24-4 run heading into the second half and held the Clippers scoreless for nearly four minutes in the fourth quarter.

“I thought we came out in the third quarter and made a little bit of adjustments,” said Wizards head coach Scott Brooks. “One was getting our mind right. We gotta play well, but we’re playing much better.”

Beal secured his league-leading 22nd game of at least 30 points after he accounted for 33. Westbrook scored 27 points, pulled down nine rebounds, had 11 assists, and posted a season-high mark of four steals.

The Wizards have served up home cooking well as of late, winning five of its last six games in the nation’s capital and improved to 9-6 against the Western Conference while posting the second-best winning percentage (.600) of any Eastern Conference team behind the Brooklyn Nets.

Washington is still in the No. 12 spot in the Eastern Conference Standings, but only three games back from the Toronto Raptors (as of March 7). The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks are all tied with 16 wins apiece, though Indiana has one less loss than its counterparts.

“We’re playing better and we got to take a break,” Brooks said. “We deserve the break … the whole league deserves a break. We gotta enjoy it and relax and embrace what’s in front of us. Our goal is to make the playoffs and challenge each other to get better and help each other get better and fight for that spot.”

Beal Shines in All-Star Game Start

On March 7, Beal shined, starting for Team Durant in the 2021 NBA All-Star Game in defeat, 170-150. He played 31 minutes and scored a team-high 26 points, accounted for four assists and pulled down two rebounds.

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