Washington Wizards at Orlando Magic game preview
The Washington Wizards and Orlando Magic will look for more from their budding stars when they meet in Orlando on Friday.
For Washington, Bradley Beal's career has been something of a bumpy road. Injuries have derailed his career at various points in the past four seasons. He has played 70 games in a season just once in his career.
Despite all that, Beal has one of the best shots in the league, making 39.5 percent of his 3-pointers in his career. He was seemingly the best complement to John Wall, helping the Washington Wizards get within two games from the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015.
Last year, Beal's scoring has been up. He averaged 17.4 points per game. But he could not outrun his narrative -- he played in only 55 games thanks to a stress reaction in his lower right leg that kept him out intermittently in 2016.
This season, Beal missed three games already with hamstring tightness. And with his history of injury, the Wizards stayed cautious. It seemed the Wizards could not get themselves on the same page - with Wall also missing games this season after surgery on both his knees this offseason.
"The guinea pig has learned to be smart in terms of taking care of my body," Beal told Candace Buckner of The Washington Post. "A few times I wanted to come back a little bit earlier from it but I just took my time with my hamstring. The biggest thing is just learning from previous injuries and just learning from past mistakes, and if you come back earlier, the risk you're taking with possibly missing more games."
Since Beal's return, he has played like the star player the Wizards invested a five-year, $128-million contract in. That culminated in his career-high 42-point performance against the Phoenix Suns on Monday.
It feels very much like Beal is back after fighting off so many injuries throughout his career.
The Wizards have gotten the most from Beal. He is averaging 20.2 points per game and shooting 42.5 percent from the floor.
At 4-9, Washington will need more from its potential star, much the same way the Orlando Magic need a bit more from Nikola Vucevic.
Vucevic is the team's leading scorer for the past several years as the Magic tried to climb out of the basement and into the playoffs. With all the changes the Magic have made this season, no one has struggled to adjust more than Vucevic.
Vucevic is averaging 11.4 points per game, his lowest since his rookie year when he was a little-used reserve player. His rebounds are up to 11.0 per game, but Vucevic's value has always been on the offensive end. So his career-low 43.1 percent shooting is a bit alarming for a team that relies on him to anchor an offense.
Wednesday's loss to the Phoenix Suns was a bit of a hopeful turn. He scored 21 points on 10-for-15 shooting. It was just his third 20-point game in 15 games this season and just the seventh game shooting better than 50 percent from the floor.
Vucevic's struggles have been emblematic of the Magic's overall offensive struggles.
"We've got to get comfortable with each other where things become automatic," Vucevic said before Wednesday's game. "I think in Milwaukee we had more plays where we made the right play and found the open guy and made the extra pass. We just have to do that over and over. And then I have to make shots at some point this season. I think that will help a lot as well."
Getting Vucevic to play better offensively and, quite simply, make shots is critical for the Magic to back up their improving defense. They have held six of their past seven opponents to fewer than 95 points. But Orlando has scored at least 95 points just once in that span.
For both the Magic and the Wizards, getting these two key players on the court and on track offensively will help both climb their way into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.