New Year’s Eve Matchup to Watch

The matchup: Bradley Beal vs. Zach LaVine

Why I care: We’ve got a matchup of shooting guards on teams that have both started slowly, the Washington Wizards are 0-4 and the Chicago Bulls are 1-3, trying to end 2020 on a high note. The Bulls lone win came against the Wizards just a couple of nights ago, 115-107, so it’s not too hard to find what these guys have done against each other recently.

Beal had the advantage in points, scoring 29 to Lavine’s 23, but LaVine put up five rebounds, six assists and four steals to Beal’s four, three and two and LaVine’s team came out on top. But the stat that was most important in that matchup, to Beal at least, was turnovers.

Beal is averaging four turnovers a game through the first handful of matchups and had five against the Bulls leading to comments after the game that “I can do a lot more than what I’m doing, that’s for sure. I can be better on both ends, guarding guys, getting back in transition, rebounding more. And ultimately for me, stop turning the damn ball over.”

While Beal has struggled with turnovers so far, you gotta think he will return closer to his career average of 2.3 per game at some point, but one aspect of his offense has taken a huge step. His career point per game average is right at 21, but through the miniscule sample size of his first four games with Russell Westbrook, Beal is sitting at 32 points per game.

Is that just a strong start to the season, or has the addition of Westbrook and the rest of the Wizards’ revamped roster opened the floor for Beal to get to the basket?

For LaVine and the Bulls, the issues have been similar. Chicago pulled out the win over Washington because of adjustments in the lane on defense, forcing the Wizards to shoot and cutting down on the rampant interior scoring the Bulls had allowed in their first few games, while also dropping from 18.3 turnovers per games as a team to 14 against the Wizards.

LaVine had probably his best game of the young season, controlling the offense, driving to open up teammates and using his pure athletic ability to force quick decisions from the opposing defense.

His strong performance was hopefully a turning point after a frustrating three-game start to the season for LaVine. While he’s definitely the face of this year’s Bulls roster, LaVine and Chicago passed their deadline to extend his contract past the 2021-22 season with no big negotiations other than trade talk.

LaVine has upped his scoring average from 17.7 for his career to 23.8 as he’s become a bigger and bigger part of the Bulls offense during his time in Chicago. His PPG (points per game) average has steadily increased each season, but he will have to add at least two more PPG to keep that streak going, after averaging 25.5 last season.

So while LaVine is trying to continue to step out of the frustrating start, it might just be to audition for a better team, maybe a back-to-back against the lowly Wizards is the perfect place to start.

What else to watch: Of course any game Westbrook is in, he’s a key player to keep an eye on. So far this year, he’s back to his Oklahoma City style of setting triple-double records. Again, super small sample size, with Westbrook only playing three games so far with his new team, but he’s averaging 19 points, 13.7 boards and 12.7 assists through those three, with three triple doubles. Who knows, maybe getting away from James Harden will get Westbrook back to putting up a triple double every night for a team that can’t make it past the first round of the playoffs.

I don’t really care if it’s a winning strategy, it’s fun to watch.

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