Less than 24 hours after beating the Pelicans on a last-second dunk by Nene, the Wizards look to keep it going as they play the Cavaliers. Can John Wall get the better of Kyrie Irving in their first meeting since the All-Star game? We'll find out tonight.
Where and when? The game is at 6 p.m. in Cleveland.
Are they good? Cleveland was actually on a bit of a roll after struggling through the first three months of the season. The last time the Cavaliers played Washington they won 115-113, kicking off a six game winning streak that was cut short when they lost to Toronto Friday. They're currently 22-34 with the point differential of a 19-37 team so, if anything, they're even worse than their record. At the same time, they some good veterans in Luol Deng and Anderson Varejao, Irving is a star, and there are three or four underperforming youngster who, if they were to play up to their talent level, could be an All-Star.
Who's out? Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao, C.J. Miles and Carrick Felix (this year's winner of the Haywoode Workman Award for Best Name in Basketball) are out for Cleveland. The Wizards are actually healthy, with Al Harrington having returned last night for his first game since early November.
Did they do anything at the trade deadline? Yes, you could say that. In what I think could be one of the most underrated moves of the year, Cleveland picked up Spencer Hawes for pennies on the dollar, sending away only two second round draft picks and Earl Clark, a player Cleveland miscast as a small forward due to their logjam in the frontcourt. Hawes is big enough to protect the rim and is one of the league's better centers when it comes to passing and shooting. He fits this team perfectly and it's a real shame that Washington couldn't pick him up for a similar package.
What are they good at? Not a lot, but their offense could be bananas one day. The Cavaliers as a team are only 24th in the NBA in offensive rating per Basketball-Reference, yet they're eighth in the league in points scored per possession by their pick and roll ball handlers per MySynergySports. Irving is largely responsible for this, as he's scoring 0.91 points per possession out of the pick and roll, a play that accounts for almost 40% of his offense. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that he's playing with a supporting cast that couldn't complement this any worse. Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao are kind of, sort of pick and roll players, but they're not ideal partners for Irving due to their middling finishing ability at the rim. Meanwhile, instead of knockdown shooters who can spread the floor, Irving shares a backcourt with a combo guard who prefers to handle the ball (Waiters) and a wing who's a career 33% three point shooter (Deng).
What are they bad at? Cleveland is giving up only 107.3 points per 100 possessions, the 18th best mark in the league, yet they should be much better at defense. Some coaches, like Mike D'Antoni and Rick Adelman, are known for maximizing a team's offense. Some, like Scott Skiles and Tom Thibodeau, are known for emphasizing defense above all else. Cleveland coach Mike Brown falls into the latter category, but has been less effective than he was during his first stint in Cleveland. Considering the Cavaliers' combination of savvy veterans and athletic youngsters, as well as how strongly Brown stresses good defense, the Cavaliers should be at least a top ten defense, especially when Varejao is around. The problem seems to be a lack of effort and focus, and it's really not surprising considering how toxic the locker room environment has apparently become.
What happened to Anthony Bennett? The same thing that happened to Val Kilmer. He came into training camp overweight and has been one of the most ineffective number one picks of all time as a result. He's been better lately, though, and seems like he's slowly but surely getting the hang of this NBA thing.
Who's going to win? I'm going with the Wizards tonight. Yes, it's the second game of a back to back and it's on the road against a team that had been playing some of its best basketball of the year, but Wall's size and speed make him as well suited as anyone to guard Irving. If he can slow him down, the rest of the Cavaliers should struggle to pick up the slack unless someone like Waiters or Deng catch fire.