- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2021

Of Bradley Beal’s three All-Star game experiences, Sunday night was by far the easiest.

The Washington Wizards guard didn’t need to go through the usual hoopla ahead of the outing, the pregame obligations that turn the All-Star game into a red-carpet event. He just showed up and played, this year as a starter.

And while Beal said before the game that he hoped he wouldn’t have to play too many minutes, the 27-year-old featured for 31 minutes in Sunday night’s contest — which ended as a 170-150 win for Team Lebron — while scoring a team-high 26 points.

Beal was voted a starter for the first time in his career, rebounding from an All-Star snub the year before. He received the most votes of any guard in the Eastern Conference and earned the seventh-most votes of any player. That recognition made Sunday night special for Beal.

“It’s still surreal to be a starter, cause I know there are so many guys who are more than deserving to be a starter,” Beal said Sunday afternoon. “I’m definitely honored and appreciative of the fans, media and my peers for voting me in. Definitely speaks volumes to the work I’ve put in and everybody taking the time to watch the Wizards.”

Beal stood out on Team Durant, finishing with his most points in an All-Star game appearance — he had 11 in 2019 and 14 in 2018 — while also chipping in four assists and two boards. He edged Kyrie Irving (24 points), Jayson Tatum (21) and James Harden (21) in scoring, and his 31 minutes were more than he played in either of his other All-Star appearances.

Beal’s 26 points set a franchise record for most points in an All-Star game by a Wizards player. Beal shot 10 for 16 and hit 50% of his three-point attempts. He was overshadowed by Giannis Antetkounmpo from Team Lebron, though, who won the game’s MVP award with 35 points and seven rebounds.

Beal knocked down six 3-pointers and made several nice moves to the rim. He out-maneuvered center Nikola Jokic for an early lay-in, then used a Euro step later in the first quarter. Beal also dunked after Tatum found him with an outlet pass in the second quarter.

Playing with Boston’s Tatum was especially meaningful for Beal. They both grew up in St. Louis, and while they never played for the same team together, Beal looked forward to that connection.

“It’ll be very exciting tonight to be able to share the floor with Jayson,” Beal said before the game. “Us literally being from the same city, living five minutes from each other, going to the same school, pretty much having almost the identical path to each other tonight. It’ll be an honor, for sure.”

Washington is making a push toward a playoff spot, going on a 8-3 run in its last 11 games before the All-Star break. Beal has played a huge role for the Wizards for years now, but his 32.9 points per game this season leads the league and has much to do with the team’s recent success — that, and better team defense.

Beal had the chance to show his ability on a national stage Sunday, though, and he took it.

“It was amazing just being able to be out on the court with 20-plus other guys in the league that are phenomenal at what they do,” Beal said postgame. “For me to start, that felt great. I was happy about it. I enjoyed every single moment of being out there on the floor and happy that we got to compete and have fun with it.”

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