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Open thread: Regular season game 64

The essentials:
Cavaliers (37-28) at Wizards (31-32)
8 p.m.
Verizon Center
TNT (woo!)

This year:
December 5: Wizards 105, Cavaliers 86
November 18: Wizards 111, Cavaliers 99
January 23: Cavaliers 121, Wizards 85
February 22: Cavaliers 90, Wizards 89

Notable Cavaliers numbers this season:
15th in expected winning percentage (.479).
22nd in pace factor (89.3 possessions per game).
17th in offensive efficiency/offensive rating (107.7)
13th in defensive efficiency/defensive rating (108.4).

Key links (drop any others in the comments)

Cavalier Attitude.
Le Cavs.
Waiting for Next Year, Cavs section.
Brian Windhorst.
Wizards Insider: We're healthy, they're not.
Cavalier Attitude: It'll all jell...right?  Right?.
Am I reading this right?  People want Damon Jones to keep his mohawk?.
Even Eric Snow is hurt.
DCPSR game preview.
Yay! Sports Blog Preview.
POJO DOJO Blog Preview.
Cavalier Attitude Blog Preview.
Truth in a Bullet Fedora Blog Preview.
Competition Discussion: Cleveland.

Starting lineups:
PG: Delonte West
SG: Sasha Pavlovic
SF: LeBron James
PF: Joe Smith
C: Anderson Varejao


PG: Antonio Daniels
SG: DeShawn Stevenson
SF: Caron Butler (YES!)
PF: Antawn Jamison
C: Brendan Haywood

Tonight's lines:
Cavaliers at Wizards: Wizards by 3.
Over/Under on total points: 192.5.

I don't like Cleveland, though it's mostly out of jealousy for LeBron than pure hatred.  It probably stems from 2006, but other than LeBron's gypsy curse, there wasn't much to suggest that the rivalry was getting nasty.  It was just an entertaining series that should have been ours, but wasn't.

But since there is some level of dislike for the Cavs, the long preview returns.

It's about time: I don't think anyone could envision a more perfect time for Caron Butler to return to the lineup.  He's coming back on a nationally televised game against a team featuring the league's best player (don't give me Kobe) with his own banged-up troupe.  More importantly, the Wizards, despite righting the ship a bit, are in grave danger of falling out of the six spot in favor of the Sixers.  Philly defeated Detroit last night, which definitely grabbed my attention.

I know Jake says we shouldn't worry, but I sure am.  The Sixers have won 8 of 10, with their two losses coming to Golden State and Boston (which was close until the end).  They have wins over Detroit, Orlando and Phoenix (on the road), and more importantly, they're destroying teams right now.  Wins over the Clippers, Sonics, and Bucks aren't overly impressive, but wins by 26, 34, and 22 sure are.  You can usually measure a team's strength by their margin of victory, because presumably a good team is one that's consistently good.  In these last 10 games, the Sixers have been consistently great, and their young legs haven't seen as much wear and tear as our older ones.  

And remember, there's a world of difference between the sixth and seventh spot.  Orlando is very formidable, but Detroit's playoff experience means you have no chance at winning a seven-game series against them.  Orlando's defense and shooting could easily go south, so that's a far more winnable series.  If the Wizards fall into seventh, we might as well forget about advancing.

All the more reason why Caron's return is huge.

What have we been missing? Just a reminder of how well Caron has played this year.

His true shooting percentage is 56.3.  His PER is 22.06, good for 16th in the league.  He's shooting nearly 37 percent from three after never being a three-point shooter in prior seasons.  His assist rate is 17.3, an incredibly high number for a small forward.  He's taking, and hitting the big shots down the stretch more often than ever before.  He's even getting to the free throw line at a higher rate than Antawn Jamison.  

And with small forward our weakest positon, he becomes even more of an upgrade.  Andray Blatche and Darius Songaila have been playing well, but the fact that they're playing out of position has hurt our defense.  Butler, despite not being an elite defender, helps that.

Just a reminder of why you all should be excited.

The banged-up, new look Cavs: It's been 10 games since the Cavs made their "our crap for your crap" trade with the Bulls, and they've been 6-4 in those games.  Still, it's too early to make a real judgement on the trade, not only because it's only been 10 games, but also because they've been hit with so many injuries.

Tonight's Cavs are playing without Daniel Gibson, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Ben Wallace, and even Eric Snow.  Sasha Pavlovic is also just coming back from injury, and he only played nine minutes in teams' loss to the Nets yesterday.  

But it's hard to say at this point that Cleveland won the trade.  As Ivan mentioned in the Wizards Insider link, Wally Sczcerbiak was supposed to be the shooter needed to space the floor for LeBron, but his eFG% is just over 39 percent in nine games with Cleveland thus far.  Joe Smith has been excellent, but he's only playing 24 minutes a game.  Ben Wallace hasn't been any better in Cleveland than he was in Chicago, and I doubt he gets better with his lingering injuries.  Delonte West has improved slightly since the trade, but he's struggled a bit adjusting to far less usage.  When fully healthy, the Cavs are in theory built perfectly for a "LeBron and everyone else" team, with three lead guards (Gibson, Damon Jones, West), two good wings (Pavlovic, Devin Brown), and a multitude of bigs (Ilgauskas, Varejao, Smith, Wallace) to surround LeBron, so I do think they'll be dangerous in the playoffs.  But right now, they're very beatable, particularly on the second game of a back-to-back.

Keys to the game: Without Butler, the Wizards have morphed into a post-oriented team, and that should continue tonight even with Butler back.  Cleveland's very shallow up front, with Dwayne Jones likely the first big off the bench.  Using Brendan Haywood and Jamison to get Smith and Varejao in foul trouble could go a long way in making Butler's return easier.

Defensively, the Wizards need to find Jones when he's in the game, but otherwise, the key is preventing second shots.  Cleveland is third in the league in offensive rebound percentage, and I don't think the absence of Ben Wallace will do much to change that.  Keeping Varejao off the glass is essential for victory.

This is an open game thread, so recall the underrated Terrell Brandon here.