After every Washington Wizards game this season, Bradley Beal has faced cameras and recorders. Although answering postgame questions has been routine over the course of his career, standing up as the voice of the locker room has been an additional responsibility since backcourt mate John Wall went down Jan. 27.
When Beal addressed his missed step-back jumper at the end of regulation against the Miami Heat earlier this week, his words seemed to allude to more than just one failed shot.
“Like I always say, win or lose,” Beal said, “it’s going to be on my shoulders.”
In the absence of a transcendent teammate, more is expected from the team’s lone healthy all-star. It’s a burden Anthony Davis knows well, as he has carried the New Orleans Pelicans on his coat-hanger shoulders since teammate DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his left Achilles’ tendon in late January.
On Friday night, the Wizards (37-28) will meet the revitalized Pelicans, a team that has soared with Davis’s solo leadership. The Pelicans (38-26, fourth in the Western Conference) won a franchise-record 10th straight game while playing Sacramento Wednesday night, though the burden of carrying a team might come at a cost.
Davis left the game in the third quarter after rolling his left ankle. While injuries happen and should be expected, Davis’s pain came at a time when he was tied with Beal for the league high in minutes since Jan. 27. After his night was cut short at 23 minutes, combined with Beal logging 43 in the Tuesday night overtime win over the Heat, Beal has taken control of the league’s top minutes mark with an average of 38.2 per game.
“It was good, it was cool,” Beal said about heavy minutes against the Heat. “I was a little tired, but for the most part at this point of year you’ve got to duke it out and fight it out. When Otto [Porter Jr.] went down, there was no way I was coming out of the game anyway. So, I just continue to push myself as a mental challenge more than anything. But I’m doing everything I need to do to take care of my body, too.”
Though Davis was unable to continue in Wednesday’s game, which New Orleans won anyway, his dominant play without Cousins has justified his MVP candidacy.
Since late January, no one in the league — not even Beal — has been more responsible for his team’s success than Davis. Over the past 16 games, a stretch in which the Pelicans have averaged an NBA-best 116.7 points per game, Davis has been at the center. More than a third of the Pelicans’ plays have been run through their big man and he has scored 36.6 percent of the team’s points (a league high among regular rotation players).
Davis increased his production after acknowledging that he needed to take over. It was none other than Cousins who encouraged his reluctant star teammate to accept an altruistic form of selfishness.
“I was trying to kind of do what DeMarcus did, getting a lot of guys involved,” Davis recently told reporters in describing his mind-set following Cousins’s injury. “I was playing indecisive a lot. I was thinking too much. Actually, [Cousins] called me and said, ‘What are you doing? Man, you just need to go out there and be you.’ ”
Davis ran away with the Western Conference Player of the Month honor in February. On Feb. 26, Davis capped the month by scoring 53 points, grabbing 18 rebounds and blocking five shots. Davis became only the second player to produce those numbers since 1973, when the league began registering blocks.
“Incredible,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said of Davis. “He’s going to be in the conversation of all the great ones in the league, doing it on both ends of the floor. He makes big plays for his team and has really expanded his game where he can shoot threes now.”
Even so, the Anthony Davis Show may be on the shelf. Davis underwent an MRI on Thursday, and although the results reportedly came back negative, Davis could miss time.
Entering the Friday night matchup, Beal and the Wizards will have enjoyed two rest days, though their team also needs to heal.
Before the team chartered a flight to New Orleans, Porter’s status was ruled as “day-to-day” as he deals with a sore right hip stemming from a collision with Dwyane Wade. Porter received treatment instead of participating in the team’s last practice, a light workout on Wednesday.
“You can’t give in to the season. You can’t give in to the bumps and bruises,” Brooks said, responding to a question about resting players while still needing to get better late in the season. “You’ve got to get some work in. You got to cut it down a little bit, reduce your load a little bit. With injuries you never know.
“You just have to approach it [as] next man up,” Brooks continued, “and do the best you can to put yourself in a position to win but you also have to manage it as a coach and coaching staff knowing we have to get better but we don’t want to do a heavy load.”
Read more on the Wizards: