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Next-day soreness absent for Bradley Beal going into pivotal game vs. Bulls

Next-day soreness absent for Bradley Beal going into pivotal game vs. Bulls

A day after Bradley Beal tweaked his sore right ankle, he was able to take part in the Wizards' practice Monday and is a go for Tuesday's home game with the Chicago Bulls that could put them over .500 for the first time this season.

"He felt good this morning. You're always worried about the next day," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of Beal, who went down in the second quarter of Sunday's 107-101 win at the Milwaukee Bucks. "He went through light practice today. I assume everything is going to be fine for tomorrow."

After Beal had made a layup in traffic, as he retreated down the floor he stepped on the foot of Malcolm Brogdon and rolled the ankle again. He initially hurt it Dec. 28 in a win over the Indiana Pacers, but in that game he couldn't return in the second half because of stiffness.

Beal returned Sunday, scoring 12 of his team-high 26 points in the second half. Against Indiana, he returned briefly in the first half but clearly wasn't confident or comfortable cutting or exploding, Beal looked like his old self Sunday. 

"I was good," Beal said. "A little sore but I was alright."

A win also would give the Wizards a 2-1 edge in the season series with Chicago which is playing tonight vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

Related: NBA Insiders Notebook

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Morning tip: At least 44 wins if Wizards can do this before All-Star break

Morning tip: At least 44 wins if Wizards can do this before All-Star break

At 21-19, the Wizards finally are on the verge of creating a new identity as a team that is defense-first, offensively potent and to be reckoned with beause of their home-court.

But they have 15 games left before the All-Star break to create the separation needed to give them breathing room in a muddled Eastern Conference and there are plenty of tiebreakers to be had, too.

They play the Memphis Grizzlies at Verizon Center tonight, where they've won 12 games in a row. But in the next week alone they can secure their season series with the N.Y. Knicks, take 2-0 leads over the Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons and go up 2-1 vs. the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks. Two of the last three games before the break are against the Indiana Pacers, who they're tied against 1-1.

A 10-5 stretch from now until the break for the Feb. 19 All-Star Game in New Orleans would put Washington at 31-24 with 27 games left in the regular-season.

If the Wizards can go no worse than 13-14 from that point, they'd finish the season 44-38, the minimum win total required for a No. 8 seed in last year's playoffs. 

Because of the shaky bench play, the Wizards have been an inconsistent road team. Reserves tend to play better at home so banking the wins now becomes more crucial.

To end the season, the Wizards have two games left with the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors. They have five-game road trip in early March against teams they've already beaten: Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves.

But it's those games out of All-Star break that will set the tone. After playing the Philadelphia 76ers are their first meetings with the Jazz, Warriors and two dates with the Toronto Raptors in less than a week.

There never are truly easy stretches, but it's all relative. Go into the All-Star break playing out of any kind of hole with that death lineup to kickstart the stretch run -- the Wizards lost 109-102 in Philadelphia minus Joel Embiid already -- puts everything in jeopardy. 

[RELATED: Kelly Oubre shows signs of development on both ends vs. Blazers]

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Film study: Wizards put forth best 48 minutes of defense this season

Film study: Wizards put forth best 48 minutes of defense this season

You can have effort and hustle on defense, but without smarts and proper communication, it's all just wasted energy. The Portland Trail Blazers aren't a good team record-wise, but they have two elite scorers in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum who gave the Wizards fits in sweeping them last season. 

They'd recently beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers by 16 points, but the Wizards had their best defensive showing for 48 minutes of the season. 

The evidence:

The pick-and-roll action between Lillard and Mason Plumlee leaves much to be desired. Wall uses lock-and-trail technique to take away the three-point shot. Lillard gives it up to Plumlee being defended by Marcin Gortat. Markieff Morris digs in to help prevent a clean layup, forcing the ball out to Al-Farouq Aminu. Quickly, Morris jumps out to prevent the clean look by a solid three-point shooter and Gortat is behind him in support. Where Plumlee is standing during all of this, he's not a threat. As Aminu can't turn his shoulders square to the rim for a finish, he tries a pass out to Plumlee on a bad angle which makes Morris' steal an easy one.

Bradley Beal does the same on McCollum. He locks and trails around the screen from Plumlee. This technique allows the guard to recover provided he stays low, absorbs contact from screener and has support from the big to stop the ball until recovery. Unfortunately for the Blazers, Plumlee isn't a spread five. Him being this high allows Gortat double the ball and not have to vacate his spot. Beal can get the strip from behind.

Otto Porter is following Mo Harkless as he curls into the paint but doesn't allow him to turn into the rim. Lillard cuts baseline and it appears Porter is destined to collide with Wall, which creates an open look. They switch out and Lillard is forced to take a contested fade on a 6-8 small forward with long arms. This isn't a complicated play, but the kind of play earlier this season that the Wizards would defend well but not finish the possession because they'd relax thinking the play was over by stopping Harkless.

Kelly Oubre was on the ball with Lillard but gets screened off. Tomas Satoransky makes the switch, bodies up Lillard as he tries to turn the corner to the rim which slows him. Markieff Morris leaves Aminu in support to smother the ball. That's a 6-7 guard and a 6-10 big and the baseline serving as a third defender. When Lillard figures out he took it one step too deep before passing back out to Aminu, it's too late. It's a turnover. 

Meyers Leonard screens Oubre to get Lillard free vs. Gortat. Using the sideline, Gortat moves his feet and is aggressive in keeping him pinned until Oubre can recover underneath to the ball. Also see how Gortat is physical with Leonard, giving him a left stiff arm to take away any possibility that he can roll to the basket. By the time Lillard tries to shoot, the 6-7 Oubre, who has a 7-2 wingspan, is in his face to contest and it's a brick.  

Beal gets his hands out of the cookie jar, knowing Lillard likes to sweep through to force contact on his arms and draw a whistle (a smart, legal play). Anticipating he'd get that contact that never came, Lillard elevated and realized there'd be no whistle. He makes an emergency pass out to Allen Crabbe who swings it to Aminu. Also note, Oubre immediately shades Crabbe to his left hand. He doesn't dribble and finish well in that direction. Aminu goes at Morris who doesn't allow him to get to the rim or square for a decent shot. The Wizards gang rebound to get out in transition. Lillard puts up no resistance as Wall goes end to end. 

Wall stays connected to Lillard through the first screen from Jake Layman. He anticipates the pin down coming from Plumlee on the reversal and tries to go over the top, but Lillard breaks off his route and tries to cut across the lane to fill the opposite slot for a potential three. Porter switches with Wall as a result, but see what Gortat does to allow Porter to get into position. He won't allow Lillard to run freely into his spot for a catch-and-shoot. He doesn't hold him, which would be illegal, but interrupts his route. That throws off the timing and Crabbe has to send the ball back to Layman, now being covered by Wall who has to deal with a third screen set by Plumlee. He gets the strip from behind for a breakaway.

Wall hops into the ball to take away Plumlee's screen. This forces Lillard to make the read to drive away from the screen, but Gortat is there. What makes this easier – again – is Plumlee's positioning and that Lillard doesn't temper his speed. He's going too fast, rendering Plumlee a non-factor, rather than manipulating the spacing and putting pressure on the Gortat to make a decision to stop the dive or double-team the ball.  It's 1 vs. 2, a turnover and a runout for Beal.

MORE WIZARDS: AFTER BEST GAME OF CAREER, TOMAS SATORANSKY HAS HIS CONFIDENCE BACK