If you asked anyone within the Washington Wizards organization in the offseason if they would take a 13-7 record through the first 20 games of the season with a new coaching staff and half overturned roster, the answer from Bradley Beal and company would be a resounding yes. Aside from Washington’s 14-6 start in 2014, the Wizards’ current start through a quarter of the regular season is their best since 1984 nearly four decades ago.
Much of that is the result of a 10-1 record in clutch games defined as the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is five or less. After dropping four of five games, Washington responded with wins on back-to-back nights against the Thunder and Mavericks on the road with the latter coming without Spencer Dinwiddie. Nonetheless, the Wizards handed Luka Doncic his second home loss this season. In a season so far not up to his expectations from an efficiency standpoint, Bradley Beal put together a familiar elite performance with 26 points on 10-for-14 shooting and seven assists when the Mavericks blitzed his hot start.
“Brad is a selfless person, very selfless,” Kyle Kuzma described who had the tie-breaking shot in Dallas. Obviously sometimes he gets in that mode where he sees the basket, but that’s ok. That’s our scorer and he does that at a very, very high level so sometimes he will get that tunnel vision, but at the same time, he’s a very, very willing passer. He’s going to make the right play 7 [or] 8 out of 10 times. He did a hell of a job tonight hitting shots, he looked like Brad Beal tonight just being super, super-efficient, getting to the cup.”
Kyle Kuzma told the Mavs bench, 'I told you' after his tie breaking 3-pointer to help the Wizards win at Dallas on the second night of a back-to-back
Absolutely cold from @kylekuzma 🥶😂
— Neil Dalal (@NeilDalal96) November 28, 2021
Maybe more promising for the Wizards than the return of Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant (at this point seemingly still at least multiple weeks away) that will allow Wes Unseld Jr. to throw together even more matchup based lineups, is that Beal has not even looked like the All-Star starter he was last season. Part of that could be attributed to the loss of his maternal grandmother that he was close with that hit him hard, but he is also still adjusting to a new role where he does not have to do everything offensively. Once Beal starts playing like the All-Star he is, which may not be vying for the scoring title, the Wizards’ offense will improve from their current standing of 19th in efficiency.
“It’s a total mental transition from last year. My mentality [last year] was obviously I have to score for us to be in games last year. For us to *be* in a game, not win a game, but actually be competitive in a game, I had to score a lot of points. It’s not like that this year and I kind of have to take that mindset back at times. Sometimes I’m forcing it too much or sometimes I dribble too far into the defense. So it’s just understanding that I don’t have to do all of these things I would necessarily do a year ago. I can kind of fine-tune my game, trust my teammates to make plays, and more or less get exactly what I want on a nightly basis.”
The Wizards have overcome their share of adversity and double-digit deficits throughout their early-season schedule and many of the players have used the buzzword of resiliency as to why. At this point in the season, we have enough of a sample size for it to longer be a fluke, but a part of their new identity under Wes Unseld Jr., which has been refreshing for a fanbase yearning for sustained competence.
“I think it speaks more to the type of identity that we’re building and we’ve shown throughout the year in segments where we’re a very resilient group,” Kuzma assessed after the Wizards win over the Mavericks. “I think we had the stretch where we were 1-4 and for us to come in with the back-to-back, playing a playoff team here in Dallas with a crowd like that, down a couple guys speaks volumes to the character of the team.”