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Board work

Posting from my wireless hotel connection in Israel.  I'm kind of jetlagged right now, so it seems like the perfect time to post.

For all the talk about LeBron James, the biggest concern I have coming into this series is the rebounding.  I know LeBron will get his points, but they will only lead to a victory if the Wizards fall asleep on the glass.

As mentioned many times before, Cleveland is arguably the league's best rebounding team, and they're remained that good even after the trade.  They rank second in the league in both offensive rebound percentage (percentage of available offensive rebounds grabbed) and defensive rebound percentage (same thing, but for the other end).  It's unbelievably rare that they have consistently pulled off that double whammy in the last couple years.  Traditionally, great defensive rebounding teams are ones that have excellent defensive discipline, which means they emphasize transition defense over sending people to the offensive glass.  San Antonio, for example, was the only team that grabbed a higher percentage of defensive boards, but they were just 26th in offensive rebound percentage.  It takes great pure rebounders to be good at both offensive and defensive rebounding, and Cleveland has those.

The key people to identify are Anderson Varejao, Ben Wallace and Big Z.  All three have rebound rates (individual rebound percentage) approaching 17.  Big Z might surprise you, but the man does a great job of reading the ball off the rim, so he's able to get rebounding in a variety of ways.  All three of those guys are just as good on the offensive glass as they are on the defensive glass. LeBron also plays a big role in Cleveland's dominance, not only for his strong rebound rate for a small forward, but also because his penetration opens up so many opportunities for his teammates.  Often times, Cleveland's best chance to score is for LeBron to throw it up at the rim so his teammates can grab the rebound.

The Wizards have improved their rebounding this season, but they haven't improved enough to convince me this won't be a potential problem.  When Cleveland beat up the Wiz in February, they held a 53-29 rebounding edge.  In the game the Wizards won in March, Cleveland stayed in it only because of its 51-36 edge on the boards.  18 of Cleveland's rebounds in the second game were offensive boards, and it was really the only reason things stayed close. 

The Wizards do practically everything better than Cleveland.  Even if Cleveland neutralizes the Wizards' offensive rebounding, the Wizards are an improved shooting team, and they can get to the line at will now that everyone's healthy.  Cleveland's also not well-equipped to take advantage of the Wizards' inability to defend the three-point line, and their 1-4 style is perfect for the Wizards' zone.  But if the Wizards don't rebound, they don't win. 

The balance of the series will come down to guys like Brendan Haywood, Darius Songaila and Andray Blatche.   If they can keep Cleveland's three great rebounders out of the way enough, the Wizards will win, even if LeBron scores 70.