WASHINGTON -- On most nights, planning for the Cavaliers means stopping point guard dynamo Kyrie Irving more than anything, but before the Wizards' game Saturday night at Verizon Center, coach Randy Wittman focused his pre-game talk on Cleveland's front line:
"This is a team that is big up front, especially if Bynum plays, it makes them even bigger. And we have to do a good job on the boards. We can't get beat up on the boards against this team. I think if we can control the boards, that's going to be a big factor in tonight's game, in how we can then get out and get in transition, get a little pace to the game."
As Cavs coach Mike Brown said before the game, Bynum isn't only playing, he's starting Saturday night. Going forward, the former All-Star will be in the starting lineup whenever his knees allow him to take the court.
That could pose some interesting problems for a Wizards team that's struggled down low early this season. Between Bynum, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson, the Cavaliers boast three big-bodied, physical guys who can bump in the middle and affect schemes on both sides of the court.
Looking at the Wizards' performance inside five feet on both sides of the court paints an ugly picture (via NBA.com):
Offense -- 24th in shots made, 17th in percentage
Defense -- 21st in shots made, 30th in percentage
After being one of the league's best defensive teams last season with Emeka Okafor at center, the team's defense inside five feet has completely collapsed with Marcin Gortat at center. Wittman addressed that before the game Saturday, though, defending his recently-acquired big man when asked about missing Okafor:
"A little bit. Marcin's done a good job for us, I think, filling that. No question, 'Mek was solid back there for us, that last line of defense for us with his basketball knowledge. I think what Marcin brings us, though, is that big guy that can challenge at the rim. He's also got a very good I.Q."
However, Wittman couldn't deny defense is an issue, and he's trying to motivate his guys to work harder on that end.
"Defense is a matter of getting your knees dirty each and every night. It's not a fun thing, but it's a valuable thing. And that's where we got to get back to understanding how valuable that is for us, to be a solid defensive team."
Facing a Cavaliers team that's struggled badly on offense of late, this is a strong opportunity for Washington to bear down and perform well defensively. That'll start with limiting Irving, who's playing with a mask after suffering a nasal fracture, but stopping the big guys will be equally important.