LOS ANGELES — When John Wall surprised the local TV audience last week by conducting a postgame interview with Bradley Beal after another lights-out shooting display, he channeled a comedian popular on social media. Borrowing the delivery and phrasing of Ha Ha Davis, Wall asked Beal how he had recently been getting “bucket buckets.”
Though Wall was going for laughs — several Washington Wizards teammates recognized the impression — there was a sincerity to his acknowledgment of Beal’s hot streak.
“He’s already a lethal scorer,” Wall said before the Wizards faced the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, “but he’s finding ways to do it in so many other ways, getting downhill and getting to the basket and a guy like that that can score in various ways and get into a rhythm, the basket’s big.”
That afternoon, Beal proved his teammate’s words true, recovering from a slow start to shred the Clippers with a second-half surge that nearly sealed the game for the Wizards. Although Beal’s final basket at the buzzer did not count due to a clock malfunction, and Washington lost, 113-112, he finished with 25 points on 8-of-21 shooting and five three-pointers, all of which came in the second half.
Saturday’s matinee performance capped a sizzling stretch for Beal. In the last three games, Beal has totaled 110 points — a stretch that would align him with an MVP hopeful, James Harden of the Houston Rockets, who has scored 113 points over his last three.
On Dec. 5, Beal scored a career-high 51, dropping more points than any Trail Blazers opponent ever in Portland, while attempting seven more shots than the four other starters combined.
“I looked at the scoreboard and it’s like he has 35 points in the second quarter and I was like, ‘Wait! What?’ ” forward Kelly Oubre Jr. recalled. “I didn’t even see him score this much but I’m not surprised because that’s what he does.”
Beal followed that with 34 points in a win over the Phoenix Suns. As Beal connected on 13 of 22 shots, a pair of jumpers impressed Wall the most. Beal absorbed contact by Suns players Tyler Ulis and Alex Len on separate plays — only one foul was called — and yet still swished the deep jumpers.
“No matter if you’re there or not, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Wall said about defenders against Beal. “When a guy’s making shots like that, there’s nothing you can do.”
No joke: Beal’s getting bucket buckets.
“You’re just beyond confident. You believe that every time you shoot the ball, it’s going to go in,” Beal said, explaining the feeling of being in the zone. “You just feel like you have a natural feel for the ball, a natural feel for the game. You feel good. You feel energized. You feel strong throughout the game. It’s almost like you feel unstoppable in a sense.”
Beal eventually will come back down to earth. But Wall doesn’t want to be the reason behind this inevitable descent.
“We got to find a way to still keep him in his rhythm when I come back,” Wall said, “Keep him the same zone that he’s in.”
Wall has missed the last eight games after receiving platelet-rich plasma and viscosupplementation in his left knee. But during the team’s stop in Los Angeles, Wall participated in his first practice in two weeks; an encouraging sign that he could soon return as the starting point guard. When he does, he’ll assume his role as top dog in the offense and the dominant ballhandler.
“[Beal is] going to have opportunities to score a good amount of points. But Brad, he’s all about doing the right things and being aggressive and making the right plays,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “John is a 20-something point scorer himself, so do the math. There’s going to be less shots but the bottom line is as long as they’re good shots we have a lot of scorers in our starting lineup.”
The shots may decrease, but Beal’s team-leading usage rate can still remain high. There’s room in the Wizards’ pick-and-roll offense for one more ballhandler.
“Definitely try to find him more and more often and at times, I got to tell him you score the ball so well, at times you can be the point guard and run pick-and-rolls,” Wall said. “He’s shown it. Sometimes in the games, if I’m not making shots or teams are blitzing us, we kind of let him get the ball and he’ll run a pick-and-roll.
“There’s times I have to take the benefit role to spot-up and be able to knock down shots the way he’s done for me,” Wall continued.
It should be noted that much of Beal’s scoring uptick occurred only after Brooks freed him from point guard duties. After the Dec. 4 debacle in Utah when the Wizards lost by 47 points, Brooks kept Beal off the ball so that point guards Tim Frazier and Tomas Satoransky could handle the responsibility of setting up the offense. Beal also took the initiative to be more aggressive as a scorer. When Wall returns, Beal said his “buckets” mentality will not change.
“Yeah, for sure. The ball will probably be in his hands a little bit more because he’s the point guard,” Beal said about Wall, “but I can still be this same aggressive guy, and I plan on doing that. It’s not going to change. I’m going to continue to find my shots, continue to find my teammates and be confident in everything that I do.”