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Bradley Beal finding new ways to improve amid race for playoffs

March 13, 2019

By his own admission, Bradley Beal’s legs were feeling “a little heavy” during Monday’s 121-115 win over the Sacramento Kings.

But fatigue didn’t stop the Wizards star from coming through in the clutch. Beal scored 13 of his 27 points in the fourth two of which came on a double-clutch, two-handed dunk midway through the quarter. So much for tired legs.“Big man [stuff],” Beal said of the dunk with a smile.

As the Wizards remain in the hunt for the playoffs, Beal has tried to find new ways to improve his game this season. And he’s partially done so by identifying an old-school method that works dunking.

Through 67 games, Beal has dunked a career-high 52 times. Since the All-Star break, Beal’s dunking has been especially noticeable. Last week against the Dallas Mavericks, he lept over seven-footer Salah Mejri to throw down a one-handed slam. “I haven’t jumped like that probably since high school,” he said.

There’s a reason.

“One thing I did tell myself, is that I have to start dunking more in order to get fouls, in order to kind of get guys to second guess when they are jumping, bigs included,” Beal said. “I think if you punch a few of them, then guys will start respecting you, and not jumping and moving out of the way.”

Beal said he’s noticed a difference. The 25-year-old is averaging 5.4 free throw attempts per game also a career high. His 362 total free throw attempts rank 17th this season. He added referees reward players who are aggressive and don’t complain.

That increase does matter.

The Wizards need every point they can get given they’re still 31/2 games back of a playoff spot with only 15 games left to play.

Washington, too, can make ground in the standings with crucial matchups against the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets upcoming two teams who are ahead of them in the Eastern Conference.

Against the Kings, Beal helped Washington pull out a close game. He overcame a poor first half in which he only mustered six points.

“That’s another area where he’s been able to grow,” coach Scott Brooks said. “He didn’t have a great first half. He just saw it and just played and everyone else was getting involved, and then the great players can take over in one quarter and a lot of times they do it in the fourth quarter.

“He was, once again like many times this year, he’s made big shots after big shots and big plays and stepped up and made his free throws.”

It’s no wonder Beal was tired at the end of the night. He logged another 38 minutes in line with his season average of 37.6. Beal, by the way, leads the league in minutes.

But Beal appears OK with the heavy workload. The Wizards need him to perform at a high-level to stay alive in the playoff race, and he knows it.Beal said if this was last season, he probably wouldn’t have had a good second half after scoring so little in the first.

“I think that’s just my growth, doing whatever it takes to win,” Beal said. “Pushing my team there no matter what it takes.”