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What to watch for in Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Washington Wizards

Cleveland looks to move on from a tough loss against the Sixers and keep cooking on the home court.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards will square off at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, the latter looking to stay in the play-in race. The Cavs will look to get back on track after a rare home loss, this one at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers. Washington is coming off a thorough thrashing of the Detroit Pistons.

Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (44-28) vs. Washington Wizards (32-37)

Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse — Cleveland, Ohio

When: 7:30 p.m. EST

TV: Bally Sports Ohio, NBCS-DC+

Spread: CLE -5 (via Draft Kings)

Opposing Blog: Bullets Forever

Cavs expected starting lineup: Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Lamar Stevens, Evan Mobley

Cavs injury report: Jarrett Allen (OUT - eye contusion), Sam Merrill (OUT - G League), Isaiah Mobley (OUT - two-way)

Wizards expected starting lineup: Monte Morris, Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma, Kristaps Porzingis, Daniel Gafford

Wizards injury report: Jay Huff (OUT, two-way), Isaiah Todd (OUT, G League), Quenton Jackson (OUT - two-way)

What to watch for

Playing down

The Cavaliers have an annoying tendency to play down to their opponents, the most recent instance being against the Charlotte Hornets. Cleveland let their guard down, got out-run in transition, and was quickly down 16 points against a team “definitely not tanking”. Washington is 32-37 and, again, a mediocre team in the Eastern Conference. They have some good players like Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma, the latter of whom is likely to return to the lineup with a knee injury, and do have the 7th-best field goal percentage in the league. Cleveland is also coming off an emotionally-charged loss to the Sixers, a game they felt was dictated too much by the officiating crew.

Washington is no slouch, so the Cavaliers will have to come out with energy and beat a team they should beat. That has not always happened this season. The Cavs and Wizards also have the same road record of 16-20, so Washington is very capable of playing decently away from home.

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Let LeVert keep cooking

Caris LeVert led the Cavaliers in points (24) and assists (6) against the Sixers, on an efficient 8-14 shooting night. In a game where Cleveland got stuck in the mud on offense, LeVert was able to keep things afloat. There has been plenty of discourse about LeVert and his blemishes, but he has fully bought into his bench role and. He’s scored double digits and dished out at least four assists in four-straight games and has a net rating of +28 in those contests. In terms of bench stability, LeVert has been the steadiest of the group.

The offense is not the only thing that LeVert has been excelling at. Defensively, LeVert has been fighting his tail off to get through screens, stick to his man and get in their grill, and be active in the passing lanes. The Cavs' defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better with LeVert on the floor than off per Cleaning the Glass, and lately, it has really shown. There are nights where the bad shooting will kill the Cavs, but that is the same argument for not playing Cedi Osman - and Osman is certainly a much worse defender. It will be intriguing to see if LeVert can keep up his solid play, as Cleveland’s bench looks infinitely better with him playing well.

Stopping Kristaps Porzingis

Hard to believe, given everything that has happened over the last few years, but Kristaps Porzingis is a problem once again. The seven-foot-three center is having a renaissance season with Washington, averaging a career-high 22.9 points on 48.9% shooting. He has also returned to being an elite rim protector once again for the first time since the 2019-2020 season. Washington’s defense is better with Porzingis on the floor than off per Cleaning the Glass, the first time he has been a net positive on that end in three-plus seasons.

With no Jarrett Allen once again, and Porzingis being a perimeter threat with a 37.7% shooting average from deep, Evan Mobley will be tasked with covering the Latvian. Mobley is certainly capable, as he is an elite defender both on the inside and the perimeter, but the Cavs have famously this season had issues defending the three. Stretchy bigs space the floor, and the Wizards have another deadline shooter in Bradley Beal to contend with. Porzingis will certainly test Cleveland’s defense.

And what about that rim protection from Porzingis? Yes, it is real.

Mobley had issues against Charlotte’s Nick Richards, and Porzingis is taller still. No Allen makes the Cavs vulnerable, particularly on the glass and when defending bigs. Keep an eye on how Cleveland attacks Porzingis and defends him, especially on the perimeter.