Wizards' Bradley Beal starting to feel comfortable

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Rookie's numbers up noticeably in December

The lessons are coming at a fast and furious pace for Bradley Beal.

The Wizards rookie botched a chance to send his team to overtime against Golden State on Saturday. With Washington down by three points, he missed the second of two free throw attempts -- after making the first -- and found himself alone in the lane for the rebound.

But he was short on the putback layup. That his shot was altered and he probably had committed a lane violation were little consolation.

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"There are going to be days like that, as momma used to say," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said.

Beal had his head in his hands after the play, but it hasn't stopped him from playing the best basketball of his still young NBA career since the calendar turned to December. He is averaging 16.0 points, 4.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds this month.

Beal led the Wizards (3-16) with a team-high 20 points, two short of his season high, in Wednesday's 99-93 loss at Houston. He also matched his season best with six assists for the second time in three games.

"It's just starting to slow down for me," Beal told reporters after the Rockets game. "I'm really just reading everything, making smarter reads. I've started learning what the defense is doing and how guys are starting to play me and how I can play other guys as well."

The 19-year-old's progress over the first part of the season is often mirrored during the course of the games, where he asserts himself more as the minutes wear on. Against the Rockets, he missed four of his first five shots in the first quarter before going 5-for-10 from the field the rest of the way. Against the Warriors he had 15 of his 17 points after halftime.

Beal's defensive rebounding, a particular strength during his one season at Florida, also has improved, reflecting his increased comfort and determination on the floor. His resolve has been tested, though, and he has taken to offering a short prayer before talking to the media after games, a habit he may have picked up from Nene, whose locker at Verizon Center is very close by.

"There's not a moment around here when we think we're just going to lose a game," Beal said.

It's easy to want to rush Beal's development, especially in light of a report by The Washington Post that the Wizards turned down the chance to acquire 2012 sixth man of the year James Harden from Oklahoma City. Beal was supposed to be part of the trade, but how close the deal came to happening depends on the perspective. One league source said he never felt like it was going to happen, even though the Thunder did show interest in Beal, whom Washington took No. 3 in the draft.

Harden's future was in Oklahoma City's hands, and ultimately he went to Houston for a significant package of players and draft picks. With Beal guarding him much of the night, Harden had 31 points for the Rockets on Wednesday.

"You either get a deal or don't," said another league source who had knowledge of the Wizards' thinking. "The Thunder went another direction."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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