Wizards’ Bradley Beal “felt the same” with increased minutes

Washington Wizards' Bradley Beal dribbles the ball against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in Phoenix. The Wizards defeated the Suns 101-95. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) I’m getting a little more burn. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

More time didn’t lead to more production for Bradley Beal on the first night his 30-minute playing limit was lifted. After frustratingly picking his spots and maximizing his opportunities for the past six weeks, Beal was given 34 minutes – the most since Nov. 23, his last game before a stress injury in his upper right leg forced to him to miss three weeks of action – but had an otherwise forgettable performance.

Beal scored just seven points, on 3 of 12 shooting from the field and 1 of 6 shooting from three-point range, in the Wizards’ 96-81 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. But Beal wasn’t too upset about being the only starter held below double digits in scoring because his team won – and he didn’t have any complications physically afterward from extended playing time.

“Hopefully it will continue,” Beal said. “I kind of felt the same. I wasn’t tired or anything like that. I’m definitely in shape.”

In his previous meeting against the Thunder on Nov. 10 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Beal erupted for a career-high 34 points and won a scoring battle with Kevin Durant, who had 33 points. But the Thunder won the game, 106-105, in overtime.

Still, Oklahoma City had no interest in letting Beal torch it again. Thunder defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha wouldn’t let Beal get free and Beal had little room to operate whenever he touched the ball.

“They were switching, trapping, doing all kind of stuff. I did a great job of staying poised and not getting worried about myself too much. Because my teammates did a great job,” Beal said.

Before complaining of pain in his leg in late November, Beal had led the team in scoring at 20.6 points and the league in minutes played (40.2) and miles traveled per game. Beal is unlikely to go back to being a 40-minute man any time soon but he should wind up in fewer situations than he experienced on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers. In that game, Beal scored 10 points early in the fourth quarter to help the Wizards cut a 16-point deficit to one point but was forced to sit down to comply to the medical staff’s constraints.

Beal averaged 15 points in 23 games under the minute restriction, but he actually shot a slightly better field goal percentage from floor (41.9) than he did in his first 13 games (40.7). His three-point shot wasn’t quite as accurate with fewer minutes. He connected on 43.9 percent of his long distance jumpers before his leg injury forced him to miss nine games and shot just 40.7 after his return.

“Where he’s improved, he’s doing more than just catch-and-shoot,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “One thing about Bradley, I’ve known him because of [son] Austin [Rivers], since seventh grade, eighth grade, he’s an underrated defender. He will compete every night. I think people look at him as a shooter, and they should look at him far more than that.”

Despite his limitations, Beal has still made an impression with coaches and executives around the league. He was selected for the Rising Star challenge during all-star weekend and Team USA chose him as one of the 28 players that will compete for roster spots in international competitions in 2014 and 2016.

When John Wall was selected as an all-star last week, TNT analyst Charles Barkley also acknowledged Beal and stated, “They are going to be the best backcourt in basketball in five years.”

Beal agrees that the backcourt has the potential to special. “Very bright,” Beal said of their future. “As long as we continue to get better every year and every day, continue to challenge each other, continue to compete and have that mentality that we are the best backcourt, anything is possible.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.

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Michael Lee · February 3, 2014