The Cleveland Cavaliers stopped their four-game skid Monday night with a 106-74 blowout of the Orlando Magic on Monday. Things finally stabilized after losses to the Nuggets, Spurs, Wizards, and Raptors, as the Cavaliers looked again like they are the team we think they will eventually become. That's against the Magic, though, and they get a chance to prove they can build from that tonight as the Wizards come to Cleveland for a rematch of last Friday's 91-78 debacle, which saw death by Kevin Seraphin jump hooks and John Wall being John Wall while this potentially revolutionary Cavs offense contributed just 78 points. Tonight is basically a do-over.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Washington Wizards
When: 7:00PM ET
Where: Quicken Loans Arena - Cleveland, Ohio
Television: Fox Sports Ohio
Music: Airborne Toxic Event - Does This Mean You're Moving On?
Building from Monday would be nice. The Cavs thrashed a competent defense in Monday's beatdown of the Magic, and things looked like they were clicking on both ends for the first time this season. The offense, driven by LeBron James, looked solid. The defense was anchored well by Tristan Thompson and Shawn Marion, limited the Magic to 36 percent shooting from the field. Granted, the Magic aren't the Spurs or Clippers on offense or anything, but it was still impressive to see that. However, the key will be transferring that game over to tonight's contest. We've seen the Cavs wreck people before in wins over the Nuggets and Hawks; After the Nuggets game, the Cavs needed a rabid comeback to beat the Pelicans, and after the Hawks game, this recent stretch of horrible play occurred. We've been waiting on this "Eureka" moment for the Cavs all season, where they start figuring things out and playing like a contender. Maybe the Magic game was it, and that means we're moving on from these early season struggles (BOOM, SONG TIE-IN).
The Wizards are Vulnerable Tonight. They're on a home/road back-to-back tonight, coming off a 106-102 loss to the Hawks in Washington. The Cavs can take advantage of that, because back-to-backs are some of the hardest games on the NBA schedule. The Wizards are 4-0 in this situation this season, mind you, but those games have come against the Magic, Pacers (twice), and Bucks, so take that with a grain of salt. Making matters worse for Washington, Nene missed last night's game with a plantar fasciitis flare-up, and Otto Porter's bum hamstring limited him to 20 minutes of mostly forgettable action. The Wizards compensated for these missing players by playing John Wall 38 minutes and Bradley Beal for 35 in his third game back from injury. That doesn't sound fun, and could mean that the Wizards' backcourt won't be at fullstrength tonight, in addition to Nene and Porter's maladies. The Cavs certainly can and need to take advantage of all of this. This Wizards team is ripe for their first losing streak of the season.
A strong 3-point shooing performance would be ideal. The Cavs just could not hit shots against the Wizards in their first meeting, and hit just six of 27 attempts from beyond the arc. Hitting threes is important for beating the Wizards, because it appears to be a weakness in their perimeter defense. The Wizards are limiting threes well, allowing just 22 attempts per game, but are allowing opponents to hit 36.6 percent on the threes they do take, 24th in the league. It's very similar to the Cavs last season, who allowed a high shooting percentage at the rim but were good at limiting attempts there: The Wizards try to force you to not take many threes, but the attempts you do get are slightly more likely to go in. It's also a good way to get an advantage on the Wizards' offense; Washington's taking just 15 threes per game, 29th in the league this year. If the Cavs can get hot from beyond the arc (doable as they're a top-10 3-point shooting team this year), it could really force the Wizards into a bind, because many teams' natural instinct is to respond to a hot three-point shooting team with their own threes, which would take the Wizards out of their comfort zone offensively.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction: Probably overly optimistic, but I'm going to assume that the Magic game actually sparked something for the Cavs, and they'll ride the momentum from that game into another strong offensive performance, and will be able to outwork a flat Wizards team on a back-to-back to get another win. It'll be lower-scoring, I think, but still, Cavs 96, Wizards 91 sounds right to me.