The clock inside Bradley Beal’s head is always running on the court these days, reminding him that he doesn’t have much more time to contribute before he has to take a required breather.
Restrained by a minutes limit as he recovers from a stress injury in his right leg, Beal hasn’t been able to play with the same freedom afforded him earlier in the season. If he goes silent in his first seven-minute stint, Beal sometimes feels more urgency to produce when he returns, pressing for touches and taking inefficient shots. If he’s in a good groove offensively, Beal still has to grab a seat.
“It’s real tough, because I’m not really used to being limited,” said Beal, who will receive 28 to 30 minutes when the Washington Wizards host the red-hot Golden State Warriors on Sunday at Verizon Center.
“I guess these minutes are going to continue to be the way they are until I get better. It sucks, but I have to deal with it and it’s for my own safety.”
Before being shut down for nine games, Beal led the NBA in minutes at 40.2 and the Wizards in scoring at 20.6 points. In the eight games since, the second-year shooting guard is averaging 13.6 points in just 27.5 minutes.
The Wizards medical and training staff has informed Beal that he will continue to play with a minutes restriction for the next few weeks. Head athletic trainer Eric Waters is diligent about checking the box score and reminding Coach Randy Wittman how long Beal and Nene — who is also adhering to a similar restriction as he recovers from tendinitis in his right Achilles’ heel — have been on the floor.
“It’s hard for him. It’s hard for me,” Wittman said of Beal. “You just hope you get to a point where I can just coach and they can just play. I don’t have to live with the stat sheet in my hand after every timeout. But you know what, you’ve got to deal with it. We’ve been successful with it, so we can’t use that as an excuse.”
The Wizards have gone 5-3 since Beal returned and the 20-year-old had no problems in his first two games back. He had his own Madison Square Garden memory as he scored the game-winning layup in the final seconds against the New York Knicks, then made a three-pointer that secured a win over the Brooklyn Nets.
Since, Beal has mostly been a silent but steady contributor, making the occasional cameo. He scored 10 points during a crushing 14-1 run that propelled the team to a 106-82 home win over the Detroit Pistons, then came back and hit a clutch jumper in the final minutes of the Wizards’ 106-99 win over the Pistons two nights later.
“I was hardly ever a guy that comes out and scores 10 quick points or something like that. I’ve always got my shots within the flow of the game,” Beal said. “John [Wall] has been shooting the ball well, these last few games. he’s been shooting the ball the majority of the time and we’ve been going down low as well. When I have my opportunities, I take them.”
Beal has struggled, though, since the calendar switched to 2014. In the past two losses to Dallas and Toronto, Beal has needed 29 shots to get 22 points and has connected on 34.5 percent of his field goals.
“It’s not a slump, for sure,” Beal said. “I think it’s just me trying to find a rhythm. I think sometimes, I try to force it, because I figure I’m not out there long and I try to get going. I think I’m worrying about that instead of impacting the game in other ways. I know I’m capable of doing that, and I have to get back to having fun and just being able to just play my game.”
Beal missed two dunks in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ 101-88 loss to the Raptors, failing to throw down an alley-oop lob from Garrett Temple and getting caught under the rim on a two-handed breakaway slam. He said the miscues were the result of fatigue, not injuries.
‘Everything is fine. The knee is fine. The leg is fine,” said Beal, who sustained a bone bruise in his left knee on Dec. 27 in Minnesota. “I feel good out there. I’m not in any pain, during the game, before the game or after the game.”
Despite his rough shooting the past two games, Beal’s production per-36 minutes since he returned is also almost identical to what it was in his first 13 games. Wittman has had to resist the urge to ride Beal if he gets going early.
“That’s where you’ve got to draw the line,” Wittman said. “You waste four or five minutes because a guy’s got it going and then in the fourth quarter, if it’s a close game, you don’t have those four or five at the end of the game that you want your main guys on the floor. That’s the balancing act.”
With the understanding that his hope for a lengthy career is at stake, Beal will continue to make the adjustment.
“I can’t fault coach for it and he’s only doing his job. He’s listening to the doc and that something I have to accept and I have to find other ways to get going,” Beal said. “To me, it’s just being confident and staying ready at all times. I never know when I can go on a streak. I never when I might just score. I played the whole fourth, so whenever I’m out there, I never know when I’m going to hit a spark, so I have to always stay ready.”