About the Wizards rounding into top form in time for the playoffs, Exhibit A is Bradley Beal. In beating the New York Knicks single-handedly for the the second time this season, the second-year shooting guard has his confidence back and is peaking going into the postseason.
As the Wizards (40-36) have struggled with inconsistency in the last month, so had Beal until recently. He scored 19 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter to beat New York 90-89. He also hit the final shot in the first game of a back-to-back. The Wizards play the Chicago Bulls at Verizon Center on Saturday (CSN+, 7 p.m. ET).
"I wasn't going to let us lose," said Beal, who also made the winning shot in New York on Dec. 16. "The beginning of the fourth quarter, I looked over to Kev (Seraphin) and told Kev that. That was in my mind throughout the whole game. I said I wouldn't let us lose."
The outlook is about to get better as Nene should be back this week. There's a consistent rotation now for coach Randy Wittman to work with in Martell Webster, Andre Miller, Drew Gooden and Al Harrington. Marcin Gortat has gotten his wish to be more of a focal point on offense. Trevor Ariza doesn't have to launch threes to be effective. Trevor Booker, though he likely will be the one who has his playing time drastically cut with Nene's return, has progressed by filling Nene's void in the starting lineup.
But back to Beal, who has had his sophomore campaign marred by injuries -- stress reaction in the lower right leg, a minutes restriction, a right ankle sprain and a right hip pointer. And he probably has a litany of other minor ailments he just hasn't talked about.
The supposed weakness in his game, attacking off the dribble, hasn't been an issue in New York. The first time, he rejected a screen from Gortat to drive for the game-winning layup and Friday, when he kept his dribble alive around another screen, he stepped inside the three-point arc, made a hesitation dribble and buried the winning jumper. Even when Beal was shooting 3-for-11 in a loss to the Phoenix Suns last month, he was key to their comeback from a 25-point deficit because he was on the floor and contributed other ways.
"It's going to come and go. That's what happens to shooters. That's one thing I could do when I played in the league was shoot," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said of the shooting slump. "When you go through it, if you become timid you're going to be in that shooting slump a long time. You've got to go into it thinking, 'I've only shot 20 percent the last five games. I'm due to go for 100 percent at any time.'"