Beard returns to DC as Mystics host Sparks

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Beard returns to DC as Mystics host Sparks

The matchup: If youre a team trying to snap a six-game losing streak like the Washington Mystics, facing a squad thats dropped three straight is not a bad way to go. Over the course of the season, the Los Angeles Sparks have not been a squad that is easily defeated. The Mystics know this first hand.Washington (5-22) hosts Los Angeles Friday night (7 p.m. Comcast SportsNet), which means the squad has a chance at revenge after suffering its worst defeat of the season on the Sparks home court. It also marks the return of Alana Beard, the franchises all-time leading scorer, to Washington after the four-time All-Star signed with Los Angeles (19-9) this offseason.Beard and other ex-Mystics and former DMVers were not exactly hospitable back on June 18 when they pounded the current Mystics 101-70. Washington committed 25 turnovers while Los Angeles shot 53.6 percent from the field and six players reach double figure scoring including Beards 10.Michelle Snow led the Mystics with 15 points in that game, but the aggressive centers minutes have dwindled as of late, playing a combined 11 minutes in Washingtons last two games.Owners of the worst record in the league, Washington hasn't lost seven straight games since dropping nine in a row August 13-30, 2011. After missing the entire 2010 and 2011 seasons with injuries, Beard has missed only one of Los Angeles 28 games this season. She leads the team in minutes played (31.7) while averaging 10.9 points, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals.Last time out: For the fifth time this season and nine straight game overall, the Connecticut Sun eclipsed Washington 77-70 on Tuesday behind another dominant performance from center Tina Charles. Though Washington's leading scorer and rebounder Crystal Langhorne knocked down 10 of 14 shots and led the Mystics with 24 points and nine rebounds, Charles finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Her basket with 46 seconds remaining put the Sun ahead 73-70 after the Mystics closed the gap with an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter. Noelle Quinn and Shannon Bobbitt each scored 10 points off the bench for Washington.DMVWest: In addition to Beard, there are plenty of familiar names on the Los Angeles roster including former University of Maryland star Kristi Tolliver, who leads the high-scoring Sparks in points (18.2) and assists (4.9). The charismatic DeLisha Milton-Jones, a member of the Mystics from 2005-07, averages 9.8 points. Marissa Coleman, drafted by the Mystics in the first round of the 2009 and former teammate of Toliver and Langhornes at College Park, is averaging a career-low 3.2 points in her first season with the Sparks.
While the Mystics (69.6 points) are the only WNBA team averaging fewer than 70 points per game, Los Angeles ranks third overall with 82.8 points per game.

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Harper Among 4 Nats' Starters Out Vs. Padres Sunday

Harper Among 4 Nats' Starters Out Vs. Padres Sunday

National League home run leader Bryce Harper is among four starters out of the lineup for the Washington Nationals in their series finale against the San Diego Padres on Sunday.

Daniel Murphy, Jayson Werth and Matt Wieters also did not start for the Nationals, who open a nine-game, 10-day road trip Monday afternoon in San Francisco.

Murphy missed the previous two games due to illness, Chris Speier said Saturday. Speier, serving as acting manager with Dusty Baker away this weekend to attend his son Darren's high school graduation in California, did not meet with the media before Sunday's game.

RELATED: Nationals' Joe Ross to Start Against Team That Drafted Him

Harper is batting .337 with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs.

Washington won the first two matchups in the three-game series.

Joe Ross (2-0, 5.32) faces fellow right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (4-4, 5.74) on Sunday.

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Bradley Beal proved worth his max contract in first year of new deal with Wizards

Bradley Beal proved worth his max contract in first year of new deal with Wizards

Through four years with John Wall since he signed his deal and one year with Bradley Beal, the Wizards are a convincing 2-for-2 in handing out max contract extensions. Both Wall and Beal got paid handsomely and, despite their fair share of critics, each immediately got a lot better. They did something that is a lot easier said than done: once they got their money, they kept improving and in doing so made their contracts look better and better after actually signing them.

That's the best-case scenario for the Wizards and their front office deserves credit for both deals. They technically could have let either walk in free agency or traded them, as some in the media suggested they should. They chose to keep both for top-dollar deals and since have been rewarded for it.

Beal signed his new deal, a five-year contract worth $128 million, last July. It was a max contract for a guy who had never made an All-Star team and who had battled injuries, including last season when he only played in 55 games and only started 35. Naturally, some wondered if he was worth the money because of his problems staying healthy through four NBA seasons. 

But in his first year under a new contract, Beal achieved newfound durability. He had some minor issues here and there, but managed to play 77 out of the Wizards' 82 games and then appear in all of their 13 playoff games.

"If anything, I'm proud of that. I'm happy for myself, being able to be healthy for a full year," Beal said. "Being able to be on the floor, man, that's all I wanted. Just being able to be here. I knew if I was healthy that I would have a successful year. I had that opportunity this season."

[RELATED: Brooks proved a great fit in his first year with the Wizards]

Wall knows something about proving his critics wrong. He signed his max deal in July of 2013, before he had made an All-Star team and after he played just 49 games in an injury-plagued season. In the four years since, Wall has been an All-Star each time and this past season earned his first All-NBA selection.

Beal was not seleced for the All-Star Game this past year, but did put up career-bests in points per game (23.1), field goal percentage (48.4), free throw attempts (4.4) and assists (3.5). Wall believes his backcourt mate made a significant leap in his game.

"I feel like he should have been an All-Star. He's proven to himself that he earned his money when everybody said he didn't," Wall explained. "It's the same thing I went through. Now all he can do is take that as motivation going forward into next season. He has improved dramatically in so many areas that helped us and helped me and my game."

The ways Beal improved were obvious. His free throw attempts and field goal percentage naturally went up because he got better at earning his own shots. His ballhandling was worlds better: he developed a deadly stepback jumper and a respected crossover, and gained confidence attacking the rim.

Beal attempted 23.8 percent of his shots at three feet from the rim or closer, a career-high. He took 41.8 percent of his attempts from three-point range, also a career-high. For Beal, it was simple, spread the floor or attack the rim with impunity.

Beal's ability to break down defenses off the dribble led to more open shots. It also allowed him to run point guard at times within coach Scott Brooks' system, something many shooting guards aren't capable of.

Still, for Beal, it's the health that stands out most.

"The same thing is going to happen next season. I just have to stay within my regiment. No days off. Just continue to focus on my body and make sure I'm doing the right things," he said.

Beal has long been a dangerous shooter and above average defensive player and those attributes continued to improve in 2016-17. Now he can scare opponents with his dribbling and passing abilities. Add it all up and he's developing into one of the more complete players at the shooting guard position. That sounds like somebody who is worth the contract he signed.

[RELATED: Durant says don't blame him for lopsided NBA Playoffs]