The Cleveland Cavaliers came into Wednesday night’s game in Washington nursing a 5 game win streak. The Wizards meanwhile had been losers of 6 straight, a streak the Cavaliers started earlier this month in Cleveland. Both streaks would reach their end by the time this game was over.
LeBron James had a stellar offensive night with 34 points and 9 assists, but the story of the game was Antawn Jamison’s return to the lineup. Jamison came out of the gate on fire, scoring 13 points in the first quarter, and he would end up with 31 points on the night.
The Cavaliers were on fire in the first quarter and they would open up a 17 point lead at one point in the first half. Once the shots stopped falling, though, the Wizards collected themselves and used a 4 pronged attack of Jamison, Caron Butler, Mike Miller, and Gilbert Arenas to take over the game. Those 4 Wizards combined for 85 of the Wizards 108 points and the Cavaliers defense never looked up for the challenge of slowing down the Wiz.
After scoring 51 points in the first half, the Cavaliers offense never got into any kind of rhythm in the 2nd half and the team ended up with just 40 points in the 2nd half. Missing Shaquille O’Neal and Anderson Varejao to injury, and with JJ Hickson playing just 20 minutes due to foul trouble, the Cavaliers had virtually no inside presence in this game. With Zydrunas Ilgauskas logging 28 minutes but playing away from the rim, the Cavaliers reduced themselves to a straight jump shooting team. Once those shots stopped falling, the offense looked downright anemic. Cleveland would finish the night just 16 for 52 on jump shots and still managed only 6 offensive rebounds.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers defense continued a disturbing trend. For the 4th straight game and 5th time overall this season the Cavaliers allowed over 100 points. After holding opponents to just 91.4 ppg and 43.1% shooting last season the Cavaliers are giving up 95.4 ppg and 44.34% shooting. While that increase in FG% isn’t drastic, the increase in points allowed is. The difference this season has been rebounding. Last year the Cavalier averaged 42.2 rebounds per game, and this year that number dropped to 39.0 rebounds. That was the story in this game as well as the Cavaliers were outrebounded by the Wizards by a staggering 49-35 margin, with the Wizards collecting 16 offensive boards.
In addition to holding a severe edge in rebounding, the Wizards also managed to get to the free throw line 35 times compared to just 15 for the Cavaliers. It would be easy to assume this was a function of poor officiating, but the truth is the Cavaliers simply weren’t attacking the rim at all in this game. It’s tough to shoot a lot of FTs when you’re just sitting back and shooting jump shots. The Wizards, meanwhile, were able to get to FT line frequently as a result of their ability to get offensive rebounds and attempt to go back up for 2nd chance points. The Cavalier defense was generally out of position and reduced to fouling the Wizards in lieu of giving up the easy basket inside.
You never want to be ok with a loss, especially when you fancy yourself a championship level team. None the less, this was a road game on the 2nd night of a back-to-back and the Cavaliers never play well in Washington. They were missing two key rebounders and inside scorers in Shaq and Varejao, the Cavs were simply cold from the outside, and they only attempted 15 free throws. Daniel Gibson played 17 scoreless minutes and Mo Williams was 2 of 13 from the field while Anthony Parker was just 2 of 7. JJ Hickson was ineffective in this game as he was forced to sit due to foul trouble. All considered, the Cavaliers were still in this game in the 4th quarter, so if you’re one to look for moral victories, that’s a good place to start.
The truth is, however, the Cavaliers blew a game in which they were in full control of early on. This is a team that still often looks lifeless and uninspired, and the chemistry of last season is all but gone. They aren’t defending, they aren’t rebounding, and they are too careless with their possessions. After a dreadful start to the season, the Cavaliers are still fine at 8-4 on the season, but they are still a long way from being an elite team in the Eastern Conference. Delonte West, such an important factor last year, looks hesitant and unsure of himself as he adjust to his sporadic availability. Injuries are starting to wear on the team already this year, and even LeBron was icing his wrist on the bench at the end of this game.
The Wizards showed a lot of poise in not panicking after digging a deep hole early and fighting their way back to a blowout win. It was certainly easy to see the impact Jamison brings to the team and they found a way to still score 108 points despite not shooting the ball particularly well. So they certainly deserve all the credit for coming up with the win, but you have to believe the Cavaliers feel frustrated that they never made any kind of adjustments and let this game slip away out of their reach. This will be one they will want to forget about as soon as possible.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)