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The first time Washington Wizards rookie Bradley Beal attempted to embarrass an opponent with a thunderous jam, he got a painful lesson on the need to think before dunking. Beal picked the wrong target when he elevated for a throw-down on Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, one of the NBA's best leapers and shot blockers, and crashed on his backside after Smith stuffed the ball.
Forced to sit out the next two games last month with a sore left back, Beal was a little more cautious about when to showcase his surprising hops. But in the fourth quarter of the Wizards' 115-113 double overtime loss on Friday night to the Brooklyn Nets, Beal decided the time was right when he caught the ball along the left sideline and darted around Jerry Stackhouse, an 18-year veteran nearly twice his age.
Beal cocked the ball behind his head and soared over the unsuspecting MarShon Brooks for a two-handed jam that raised the electricity within Verizon Center. He then swung on the rim, staring down at his humiliated foe, and ran back down the court.
"I just really went hard," Beal said. "And I wanted to just put him in the basket."
The loudest two points of his career-high 24-point night against Brooklyn were the latest example of how the 19-year-old Beal is progressing. His first month in the NBA was filled with self-doubt and second-guessing as he often drifted into silence after some poor shooting starts. He showed flash but didn't always stick to it.
"The NBA is such a different style play than it is in college. It's so much faster. It takes time to understand," coach Randy Wittman said of Beal, who played one season at Florida. "He's starting to see areas where his shots are, where he can be aggressive, where he can't be aggressive."
Beal was more assertive in December and earned Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors after averaging 13.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 12games. And, since the calendar has flipped to 2013, Beal appears to have matured significantly, playing much more in control and with more self-assurance.
"My confidence is sky-high," said Beal, who is averaging 20 points over his past three games. "I feel more comfortable. … I'm just taking what's in front of me, taking what the defense is giving me, and coach is putting me in great positions, as well as my teammates."
Aside from the highlight dunk, Beal displayed confidence in the final seconds of the first overtime after the Wizards (4-27) had blown an eight-point lead with 75seconds remaining and trailed 114-111. Beal caught a pass from Jordan Crawford and used a screen from Emeka Okafor to create enough space to hit a tying 3-pointer with All-Star guard Joe Johnson contesting.