Wall’s athletic gifts and natural inclination to entertain under the bright lights converged into the perfect blend as he celebrated his show-stopping, double-pump reverse flush with the latest dance craze, the Nae Nae.
Beal’s textbook jumper and calm demeanor were obvious when he scored the highest total in the first round of Saturday’s three-point shootout and laughed uncomfortably as hip-hop star Nelly hopped from his courtside seat to exuberantly shout, shake and shove Beal.
Beal finished second in his individual competition and was on the winning team at the Rising Stars challenge, which features the best rookies and second-year players. Despite dealing with the stress of his mother being hospitalized and unable to attend the festivities, Wall helped the Eastern Conference snap a three-game losing streak in his all-star debut and emerged as the possible breakout star of the weekend after becoming the third No. 1 overall pick to win the slam dunk title, joining Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin.
“I think everybody in the world knows who I am now,” Wall said, still basking in his memorable, Wizards mascot-assisted dunk. “Winning the slam dunk contest and I had the opportunity to do it in front of my fans and all the other countries out there. That was really big for me and everybody is still talking about it’s one of the best dunks they’ve seen. So that’s exciting for me.”
The Wizards’ point guard and shooting guard of the immediate and distant future represented the organization well in the NBA’s annual extravaganza.
But after arriving back in Washington, Wall and Beal had to quickly shift their focus to the regular season, with tough back-to-back games against teams that currently rank above them in the standings, beginning Tuesday when the Wizards (25-27) host the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors at Verizon Center. They will travel to Atlanta — a place where they have lost 11 straight — the next night.
“These next 30 games are really important, because now, it’s not like we playing for playoffs. We’re playing for seed now,” Beal said. “We’ve got to take care of that and every game counts. We’ve got to try to win every game possible and we got a great opportunity to do so. Hopefully, we bear down, stay together and get wins.”
Neither Wall or Beal was pleased with the way in which the team entering the all-star break, losing four of its final five games and sliding one spot from fifth to sixth in the rickety Eastern Conference. And while both players are having career-best seasons thus far, Beal added that they will have to do more to help the team end a six-year playoff drought and possibly earn home-court advantage in the first round for the first time since 1979.
“I think we both have to improve our play,” Beal said. “We have to be more consistent, especially myself. And that’s one thing. In order for us to move forward, we both have to be on top of our game. And if the other one is not, we have to be strong enough, mentally tough enough to pick him up and pick up the rest of the team and I think we’re more than willing to do that and we're capable of being able to do so.”
The all-star break came at the right time for the duo. Wall and Beal had schedules that rarely crossed in New Orleans but they flew on a private charter together, which allowed them to spend some time together and possibly work out some of the kinks within their relationship on the court. This is the first time that they have played so many games together after each missed time with injuries for much of last season.
In last week’s 92-89 loss in Memphis, Beal scored a career-high 37 points and was visibly upset when Wall — in the midst of his lowest-scoring night of the season — took a contested, off-balance shot from well beyond three-point range in an attempt to tie the game. Both players are seeking to establish their individual identities but need each other to reach many of their goals.
“We definitely talk to see where we need to get better in the second half of the season and which directions we're trying to take,” Wall said. “Even during the games we kind of talk about it, what we think, when we need to be aggressive, what type of shots we need to take.”
Beal said frank communication has been as much a part of the Wizards’ improved play this season as more sustained health and better talent.
“That's where we grew from last year,” he said. “Together, me and John and just the whole team, period. We hold each other accountable for a lot of things on both ends of the floor and we're not afraid to call each other out and I think that's a big thing for us to move forward to and in order for us to be a great team, and I think we're doing that.”
After observing how some of the NBA’s best players carried themselves and listening to their sage advice about leadership over the weekend, Wall was more motivated to reach his “ultimate goal” of “helping my team and D.C. get back to the playoffs. You still want to reach higher levels.”
“We’ve got to get back on the right track of playing the right way, playing defense first and moving the ball offensively,” Wall said. “I think we turned a corner, we just got to try to figure out a way to play against teams like OKC, and the Trail Blazers and the Miami Heat. We have to find a way to play that way for the rest of these 30 games so we can get a better playoff spot.”