Two of the Eastern Conference’s biggest early season surprises meet tonight as the Cleveland Cavaliers begin their first home stand of the year against the Washington Wizards. Both teams are coming off impressive wins: the Cavs beat the New York Knicks on Sunday to extend their win streak to four, while the Wizards took down the (shorthanded) Milwaukee Bucks, 101–94.
Even for a team that’s been without a chunk of its regular rotation for a while, the Cavaliers are in flux right now. Collin Sexton is out after suffering a potentially devastating knee injury on Sunday against the Knicks, and Isaac Okoro is expected to return from a hamstring injury that’s limited him to just four games this season.
HOW TO WATCH
Where: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse — Cleveland, Ohio
When: 7 p.m. EST
TV: Bally Sports Ohio, Bally Sports App, NBA League Pass
Spread: Cavs +4
Opposing blog: Bullets Forever
Expected Cavs starting lineup: Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Dean Wade, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen
Cavs injury report: Collin Sexton (OUT - meniscus), Lauri Markkanen (OUT - health & safety protocols), Kevin Love (OUT - health & safety protocols), R.J. Nembhard (OUT - two-way contract)
Expected Wizards starting lineup: Spencer Dinwiddie, Bradley Beal, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kyzma, Daniel Gafford
Wizards injury report:
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Ball handlers wanted. Sexton’s injury forces the Cavs to redistribute ball-handling duties. One of Garland or Ricky Rubio is guaranteed to be on the floor at all times. But the Cavs are light on ball handlers, and options beyond those two and Sexton are thin. Cedi Osman looks vastly improved from last year’s nightmare season, but there’s a straight line between that improvement and a decrease in offensive responsibilities. The Cavs have experimented with Isaac Okoro: Point Guard in the past, but never in games of consequence. Lineups with two ball handlers have worked well in the early season. Unless the Cavs trust Kevin Pangos, those lineups might be on the shelf for a while.
Wings also wanted! Sexton’s injury doesn’t just throw off the guard rotation. Okoro’s return keeps the Cavs’ perimeter depth at ‘kiddie pool’ and not ‘puddle on the sidewalk,’ but there are still minutes up for grabs. This is an excellent opportunity for Dylan Windler to establish himself as a regular rotation member. He saw very little action through the first few games, but he’s six-for-nine from three since the beginning of November, and the fully realized version of Windler offers the type of sweet-shooting wing the Cavs so desperately need.
Windler’s only serious competition should come from Lamar Stevens. He’s been on the fringes of the rotation, but provides the Cavs a stout, physical defender (at least compared to the Cavs’ other options) to stick on bigger wings. J.B. Bickerstaff has kept a short rotation this season. If Stevens can’t earn minutes now, it’s hard to imagine he’ll ever be able to.
Paint points only! Good news: the Wizards give up the fourth-most points in the paint in the NBA (50.2 per game)! Bad news: the Cavs give up the third-most points in the paint in the NBA (50.4). Good news: The Cavs score the fourth-most points in the paint in the NBA (49.6)! Bad news: the Wizards score the second-most points in the paint in the NBA (51.2). That’s a lot of points in the paint! More bad news: Sexton accounted for nine of the Cavs’ paint points, and as we’ve established, those will be hard to replace. But more good news! The Wizards probably haven’t faced a frontcourt with Allen and Mobley’s combined defensive chops. Harrell is a key spark off the bench, so neutralizing him could give the Cavs an edge in a few areas the Wizards aren’t used to losing.