Here's where things get tricky for the Wizards. They have the misfortune of playing the vaunted home/road back-to-back, and after letting last night's game vs. the Hawks slip away, they'll be kicking themselves if they can't get the split tonight in Cleveland. And without the services of Nene, that's an especially difficult task if the Cavs take a page out of Atlanta's book and go small. It's early, but two straight losses in-conference will be a tough pill to swallow. Let's see how they respond.
When and where? 7 p.m. at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Who's out? The Wiz will be without Nene (foot) and Martell Webster (back). For Cleveland, Matthew Dellavedova is still dealing with a sprained left knee, so he's out.
Can the Wizards replicate last Friday's performance? It's been five days since their last meeting, but a lot has changed. Nene is out and replaced by the likes of Kris Humphries and Drew Gooden - two slow-footed big men that will have loads of trouble just as they did on Tuesday against a much more dynamic stretch-4 in Kevin Love. We knew the Wiz would have trouble defending smaller lineups, but last night was particularly alarming as they their bigs repeatedly got strung out on the perimeter against poor mismatches. If I were David Blatt, I'd play heavy doses of small-ball lineups featuring Love at the 5, and continue to run pick and rolls until Randy Wittman adjusts.
The downside to that is obviously on the other end, where John Wall will probably feast. The Cavs don't have many plus-defenders as it is, but their scheme does them no favors either by constantly calling for their big men to hedge or jump-out on ball handlers in the pick and roll. That's where Wall is at his best, and it's one of the main reasons why Washington was within striking distance against the Hawks.
A lot may have broken right for Washington last week, namely Kevin Seraphin's five-year late coming out party, but Cleveland's problems are far from over too. LeBron is clearly not himself, they're still starting Shawn Marion who kills their floor spacing, and there may not be a passable lineup combination on this roster that works defensively.
Keys to the game: This is all about wiping that Hawks game from their collective memory, which is a lot harder than it's made out to be. Instead of throwing in the towel, Witt chose to make one final push at the end of the Hawks game, which meant Wall and Beal both playing over 35 minutes. They're 4-0 so far on the season on the second half of a back-to-back, but it's largely come against non-playoff teams. We'll see how the backcourt attacks this game.
Who wins? I'll go with Cleveland in a *gulp* blowout. Sorry, I don't feel good about this one.