Washington Wizards (2-1) vs
Cleveland Cavaliers (2-2)
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
7:00 PM EST
What a first week it’s been. It’s hard to believe it was just one week ago at this time we were ramping up for the regular season to begin, and our confidence in this team was off the charts at all time highs. After a humbling 0-2 start, however, those expectations came crashing down and turned to desperation and panic. Thankfully, the Cavaliers were able to get some much needed medicine in the form of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Bobcats. The team now stands even at 2-2 and looks to move above .500 for the first time this season when they take on their good old friends, the Washington Wizards. I normally play down this mini “rivalry” because I really don’t think the Cavalier players care all that much about it. However, tonight I hope it’s different. This Cavalier team has been lethargic and lifeless for most of this season, and a tough, intense rivalry game could be just what this team needs.
It’s been a long time since the Cavaliers have faced the Wizards with a healthy Gilbert Arenas. In fact, I can barely even remember what a healthy Gilbert Arenas looks like. When the Cavaliers played the Wizards in the postseason 3 years ago, Arenas was injured and did not play at all in that series. Two years ago, Arenas tried coming back from injury in the playoff series, but he was a shell of himself and was completely ineffective, shooting under 40% from the field, averaging 10.8 ppg and had a postseason PER of 11.2. As a result, the Cavaliers controlled both of those playoff series and never really relinquished control in either one. Then last year Arenas missed most of the season due to injury.
However, when you look back four years ago, the Wizards had a healthy Arenas and he torched the Cavaliers. In those 6 games against the Cavaliers he averaged 34.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.3 apg, shot 46.4% from the field including a blazing 43.5% from three. He had a True Shooting % of .597 and posted a 26.4 PER. In other words, the Cavaliers had no answer for Arenas and as a result the Wizards went toe to toe with the Cavaliers for 6 games and forced the Cavaliers to rely on some clutch performances from some very unclutch players (Donyell Marshall, Eric Snow, and Damon Jones, anyone?).
So it is that the Cavaliers once again get ready to take on a healthy and motivated Gilbert Arenas. The Cavaliers will catch a break with Antawn Jamison missing this game and with Caron Butler slightly banged up, but Arenas comes to town with some new weapons in store. Mike Miller and Randy Foye are a pair of impressive new offensive weapons who will hope to be able to keep teams from focusing too much on Arenas. Then there’s the emergence of Andray Blatche who is the Wizard’s 2nd leading scorer at 21.0 ppg coming off the bench. Whereas in the past, when the Wizards suffered mightily without Butler or Jamison, this year they have some insurance. Foye is chipping in 15 points per game off the bench while Mike Miller is hitting 67% of his threes.
The Wizards bring a dynamic offensive attack, and it’s all led by Gilbert Arenas at the point. In that 2006 series I referenced earlier, the Cavaliers backcourt was a lot different than it is now. Mo Williams, Delonte West, and Anthony Parker have little experience playing Arenas as Cavs. Mo and Delonte have only faced Arenas once since they’ve been in Cleveland and that was last April when they held him to 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting in a 109-101 Wizards victory. But that was just Gilbert’s 2nd game of the season and it’s hard to gauge anything from that performance.
So how will the Cavaliers defend Arenas now that he has guys like Foye, Miller, Butler, Blatche, and Haywood at his side? There’s no easy answer, because Arenas is truly an elite player when healthy. He’s able to create his own shot and has a reasonably quick first step to get past defenders, but he’s also a deadly sharpshooter and is fearless when it comes to pulling up from literally any spot on the floor. The guy is an assassin and with the way the Wizards are playing on offense this year, the Cavaliers had better bring their A-Game defensively. With the extra weapons Arenas now has, you can no longer funnel him to the middle and force someone else to beat you by playing off Arenas. Instead, Arenas is averaging a career best 6.7 assists per game this year because he has other guys around him who can make plays. Instead, the best bet for beating him is to keep him outside on the perimeter, don’t let him penetrate, and let him shoot from outside. Accept that he’s going to get his points, but don’t let him become a playmaker and get anyone else involved in good position to score easy points.
The one thing the Wizards lack is a lot of depth on their interior. Brendan Haywood has had a history of getting into early foul trouble against the Cavaliers, and so ideally the Cavs will look to Shaq early and often in this matchup in order to try to get Haywood out of the game and tilt that advantage even further in their favor. From there, the question becomes who will defend LeBron? Against Mike Miller’s teams LeBron has put up 28.1 ppg, although Miller wasn’t always the one defending him. The point is, though, that it’s a major mismatch. Butler will probably be the guy to get the majority of this assignment, but with his knee issue you wonder how effective he will be. This primarily leaves DeShawn Stevenson to guard LeBron. Stevenson famously fancies himself a LeBron stopper, despite the fact he’s never been particularly good at slowing LeBron down. With the lack of depth in the frontcourt that the Wizards have, you might see LeBron play inside more, and in general this could be the game we see Shaq get going a bit on offense.
The Wizards traditionally play a little harder in these regular season matchups than the Cavaliers do. In fact, going back to the 2005-06 season the Cavaliers are just 7-8 against the Wizards in the regular season. However, the Wizards haven’t won a regular season game at the Q since February 2006. I expect to see a great game tonight, and I think both teams will feel they have a lot to prove in this one. Mo Williams has been heating up, Delonte West is back, and LeBron is looking to get his teammates going in an attempt to keep the ball movement working on offense. If the Cavaliers can keep moving in the right direction and make more subtle improvements to their offensive game, they should be able to win at home against a shorthanded Wizards club. If the Cavaliers play defense like they did in the first couple games, though, the Wizards will look to pounce on the Cavaliers and get the sweet satisfaction they so crave.