Twenty-four hours after snapping a four game losing streak with a home win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Washington Wizards went on the road and did a ton of things right against the Cavaliers. Bradley Beal had another huge game, finishing up with 26 points, eight assists and seven rebounds to go along with 6-7 shooting from deep. John Wall took a couple of bad shots but still managed to be a huge net positive, finishing with 15 points, nine assists and four steals. Washington also got solid contributions from Nene, Jan Vesely and Marcin Gortat, and more or less had this one wrapped up by the end of the first quarter
... and they proceeded to almost blow it in the fourth.
Washington's offense completely fell apart in the in the fourth quarter, even with the usually-good starters on the court. After spending the first 36 minutes of the game relentlessly attacking the rim, Washington started settling for jumpers and the results were about what you'd expect. The starters are playing a lot of minutes, with Beal and Wall both averaging more than 37 a game right now, so it's not surprising that they keep on running out of gas like this. At the same time, the coaching staff needs to figure out a way to put up points without Wall and Beal on the floor together or else we're going to keep on seeing stuff like this.
Yes, Washington was able to pull this one out, 98-91, but that had as much to do with sloppy play from Cleveland as it did with anything Washington was doing.
Cleveland's defense looked horrible tonight and this contributed quite a bit to Washington's success through the first three quarters on offense. Even usually reliable defenders like Anderson Varejao were a step slow with their rotation and the Wizards were able to take advantage time and time again by getting all the way to the rim. Even when the ball gets kicked out, the opposing team's defense is thrown into chaos as it attempts to recover and help so the Wizards wind up with a lot of open looks from behind the arc. In a related story, four of the team's five starters finished with more than five assists, and it's not like they were dribbling more than normal or anything. The team as a whole simply did an excellent job of moving the ball around the perimeter and passing up good shots in favor of great ones. Beal and Webster in particular deserve a lot of credit for this.
Oh well. A win's a win, and at the end of the day, the Wizards beat a solid team in a road game, and by what wound up being a fairly comfortable margin. They really need Trevor Ariza to get healthy start soaking up some of Beal and Webster's minutes, allowing the team to play more consistently throughout the entire game. They don't play again until Friday, though, so they should be a bit more energetic for the full 48 when they face the the Raptors in Toronto.
- Washington looked great in the first quarter, jumping out to an 11 point lead early in the game. Nene and Martell were awesome and connected on a couple of nice plays, including a one-handed no-look pass from Nene for a dunk. Washington as a whole did an excellent job of controlling the tempo of the game and taking advantage of defensive breakdowns by the Cavaliers.
- Jan Vesely didn't have a huge game or any particularly highlight-worthy plays (the one possible exception was a great block of a Waiters floater), but I've really liked what I saw from him. He was all over the place crashing the boards and is doing a great job of tapping the ball to his teammates a la Okafor. If he's going to stick in the league as a big man without a jump shot, he's going to need to start rebounding like a mad man, and at least for now, he's doing just that.
- Bradley Beal's all around game was on full display tonight. His points will probably get the headlines, but his passing and rebounding were just as if not more impressive. He's really stepped it up as a playmaker lately and this ability to excel at things other than hitting jump shots is going to be the difference between him being a core player on a decent team and being a core player on a good one.
- Dion Waiters probably helped Washington as much as Cleveland. He spent too much time looking for his own shot and repeatedly lost his man on defense. He needs to stop trying to do everything and develop at least one elite skill that he can fall back on when his shot isn't falling. He reminded me a little bit of JR Smith tonight, and not in a good way.
- Wall's defense on Irving left a lot to be desired. He needs to settle down, stop trying to force a turnover on every possession and simply focus on not giving up quality shots to his opponent. With his size and length, he should have been able to play a step off of Irving and keep him out of the paint.