The Verizon Center will play host to what should be an exciting game commencing the renewed Washington Wizards-Cleveland Cavaliers rivalry. John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Paul Pierce will try to flip the script from 2005-2008, when Cleveland had Washington's number in the playoffs, and come out on top against Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and LeBron James.
The Wizards' schedule this week began by hosting the NBA's best offense. Now, just two days later, they'll play host to another elite scoring club (8 p.m., ESPN).
But despite their high profile and -- at times -- dominance on the offensive end of the court, this Cleveland team has its flaws. The Wizards will need to attack those tonight.
1. Take advantage of the Cavaliers' defense
Cleveland may be averaging 108.1 points per 100 possessions, but they're also a terrible 26th in the league on the other end, surrendering 107.6 per 100 possessions. Their opponents shoot better than 48 percent from the field, a number that jumps to nearly 66 percent in the paint. For the Wizards to take advantage of this weakness, they'll need to attack the basket and do so with good results. No more wasted possessions. No more missed layups or unnecessary turnovers.
The Wizards need to take advantage of a thin Cavaliers front line. Love in particular plays shoddy defense and loses sight of his man very easily. With the way the Wizards' big men pass the ball, it's imperative they move well without it. That should open up space to operate.
Wall also needs to go after Irving, a notoriously weak defender. Last season, the Cavs allowed nearly 107 points per 100 possessions with him in the game and just over 101 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. If Wall can get past his atrocious shooting night against Dallas on Wednesday, he should generate tons of opportunities for Bradley Beal, Rasual Butler and Pierce.
2. Keep the Cavaliers under 100 points
Easier said than done, but there's a trend with this Cleveland team so far this season: they haven't won a single game scoring less than 100. Lawler's Law has been on point.
As always, it will come down to Wall. If he's on top of his game defensively for 48 minutes, the rest of the team will follow his lead. If he's not completely tuned in, you can bet Irving will be taking advantage and all hell could break loose with this Cavaliers offense firing on all cylinders.
But the Wizards held the high-scoring Mavericks below their season average and can do the same to the Cavaliers. With Love stretching the floor so often, the Wizards will need to rely on help defense to cover each other and team rebounding so they don't get punished when Nene or Marcin Gortat have to chase Love out to the three-point line.
3. Will Beal star again?
He played 26 minutes in his first game back and scored 21 points on 9-for-17 shooting. He's had one day to recover before Friday's matchup and we won't know whether Beal's minutes will stay around the 25-minute mark or increase. Either way, the Wizards need another aggressive performance from him. The Cavaliers don't have a lockdown perimeter defender; Shawn Marion is the only one who was once capable of that responsibility, but he's past his prime. If Beal finds his stroke tonight, it will open up tons of options for himself and for the big men with the spacing he will create.
4. Win the rebounding battle
Anderson Varejao has been a pest on the boards throughout his career. Tristan Thompson is, too. Keeping the Cavaliers off the glass, where they shine, is a big key. Offensive rebounds obviously lead to second-chance points, something that the Wizards cannot afford to be giving to Cleveland's electric offense.
Offensive rebounds in particular will play a huge factor in tonight's matchup as well. If the Wizards' bigs can give their team second-chance opportunities, that'll give Love and the rest of the Cavs less of a chance for quick outlet passes from defensive rebounds that lead to fast-break points. The faster the game, the better the Cavaliers play. That's the name of their game.
Slow them down and get them to dribble more than pass, and the Wizards will be in much better shape.