Opening Statements: Wizards at Cavaliers, Game 14 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards at Cavaliers, Game 14

Updated: November 26, 2014

Washington Wizards vs Cleveland Cavaliers - Game 1 - 2012-13 - Oct. 30, 2012 - Truth About

Somewhere caught between the odor of carelessness and the stank of G-Wiz the mascot is where the Wizards were against Atlanta on Tuesday night. Every NBA team, bad and good, deals in quicksand losses at the intersection of human nature and the nature of the sport. Lucky for Wizards, they get to play basketball on the very next night.

It’s hard to blame Randy Wittman for focusing on the turnovers versus Atlanta (which, per an apparent statistical snafu at the Verizon Center, could be from anywhere from 20 to 25 team TOs for the Wizards), instead of the defense. Turnovers make it easy on the other team’s offense; they contribute to mental malaise; and they often moreso represent a loss of self-control over snap defensive adjustments.

“That was as bad as we could play offensively for whatever reason,” said Wittman afterward in a public shoulder shrug that must be burning the coach up inside. Versus the Hawks was the third time in four games where mismatches on defense really seemed to burn the Wiz. After the loss to Dallas, Nene raised issue that the players were receiving “too much information” from the coaching staff. Too much info for Nene? For others? Tough to know over which shoulder to throw the grains of salt, as the eye test puts more of the defensive blame on the players than it does the coaching staff. The reality is that it’s both the chicken and the egg, we’re just not sure who is what. Dallas, Atlanta, and Milwaukee all pose tough, court-spreading matchups for the Wizards.

Nene (and Paul Pierce) have made the largest positive impact on Washington’s defense this season. The team overall DefRtg of 99.2 points allowed per 100 possessions drops to 91.3 with Nene on the court and 90.8 with Pierce on the court, both team lows. Pierce, perpetually wily, helped keep LeBron in check last Friday and will have his work cut out for him tonight. Nene and his quarterbacking, likely out again versus Cleveland, provides a greater impact than Pierce based on sheer mass. And while Kris Humphries did a good job shading Kevin Love last Friday, it’s trotting out Drew Gooden, DeJuan Blair, or Kevin Seraphin under the guise of frontcourt depth which should unsettle grains of concern and leftover pasta in the pit of a coach’s stomach.

John Wall, despite appearing to get beat off the dribble every so often by quick guards like Brandon Knight and Jeff Teague, has had an overall positive affect on team defense. Oftentimes he’s instructed to guide those he defends in certain directions and the breakdowns come from the helping big men, even if communication is on both parties. Wall also needs to do a better job pressuring the ball at the point of the attack, which he excels at more often than not but still gives less than he should on too many possessions. Team DefRtg drops to 94.3 from 99.2 when Wall or Garrett Temple play. Defensive statistical ugliness most rears its swamp monster head when Andre Miller (114.9 on court DefRtg), Rasual Butler (113.0), Drew Gooden (107.9), Kevin Seraphin (107.7), or Otto Porter (107.0) have to play—ill-fated combinations of age and youth. Nor are Humphries (104.1) and Bradley Beal (101.5) knights in shining armor. So far.

Getting back to that offense, the number one festering issue with Wittman as coach. The long 2s are glaring but one suspects it’s less systematic and more a cross between logistics and guidance. Somewhat lost in all of this is the continued need to integrate Pierce. The need for someone to be able to create halfcourt offense (or draw a foul) out of nothing has long been apparent. What’s not apparent is how Pierce’s teammates, mostly Wall, must deal with a guy who has not traditionally been a spot-up shooter, nor someone who creates a ton of attention with cuts and off-ball movement. Pierce needs the ball in his hands. Thus, discarding Glen Rice’s 43 minutes on the season, when Pierce is on the court, Washington’s offense takes the biggest hit—99.2 points scored per 100 possessions under the overall team average of 102.8. The offense when Nene (99.7) or the sometimes spastic Humphries (99.9) are on the court also takes a dip.

As part of his mental effort to stay physically healthy, Nene is taking more jump shots and avoiding more contact inside. Perhaps just an early season trend, but 39 percent of Nene’s field goal attempts came from the midrange last season. That number is up to 45 percent this season. At least his field goal percentage on such shots is relatively the same—43.3 percent from the midrange last season, 42.0 percent this season. Now, 40.5 percent of Nene’s attempts come within five feet of the rim (53.3% FGs); 46 percent of his attempts came within five feet last season (62.1% FGs). Nene is not having a down season, but he’s certainly not as down to get dirty.

Tonight, Cleveland. One would have hoped or suspected that Wittman would have started Beal to better balance the starters with Nene out against Atlanta. No dice for Randy, who perhaps expects his team to simply execute without shoe strings. Or maybe we just blame a minutes limit along with the desire to preserve Beal for late in contests by bringing him off the bench. It shall remain a mystery, much like Wittman’s offensive desire burns within a microwaved breakfast burrito. The Cavs, meanwhile, according to reports, are considering starting Mike Miller in place of Shawn Marion alongside Kyrie Irving, LeBron, Love, and Varejao in the spirit of Marion being able to provide defense off the bench and relieve James. Miller at the 2 could only bode well for attempts to get Beal and the offense going.

Stopping by TAI today is John Krolik (@JohnKrolik) of Cavs: the Blog. Keep reading for his insight on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Teams: Wizards at Cavaliers
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
Television: CSN/ESPN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WTEM-FM 99.1
Spread: Cavs favored by 7 points.

Q #1: What can David Blatt do to maximize Kevin Love’s potential next to LeBron and Kyrie Irving?

And what have you observed of Love and Anderson Varejao’s relationship on the court?

@JohnKrolikYou know, I didn’t watch a ton of Love’s games when he was in Minnesota, so I’m at a bit of a disadvantage—I don’t know exactly how he worked to put up those Top 3 PER numbers. Right now, the only times he’s getting the ball are when it’s fed directly to him on “Let”s get Kevin involved” possessions, which don’t really work for any big man in the game right now (especially not Love), or when he gets the ball on a quick pick-and-pop and puts up a quick-trigger 3 after his defender sags an inch off of him. There needs to be more movement from everyone on the Cavs team so that he can get 3s that are actually open off the extra pass/hockey assist instead of just the basic pick-and-pop, or some low screens to match him up with a smaller defender, or let him get a catch all the way at the rim since he’s excellent at finishing or drawing the foul when he’s not in a direct post-up situation.

Varejao and LeBron are basically playing their 2010 pick-and-roll game and ignoring everyone else—it’s working beautifully for them, but the third and fourth options are just not being set up on that action. There needs to be more passing and more movement, and more variety in the offense. It’s as simple as that.

Q #2: Are you more concerned about LeBron finding his leadership with a new, unfamiliar team (Brian Windhorst touted laissez-faire leadership from Mr. James early-on as part of the plan)?

Or are you more concerned with LeBron not setting a proper tone on defense, partially via noticeably negative body language? 

@JohnKrolik: The most concerning thing about LeBron is that his pop isn’t quite there. If that otherworldly athleticism is gone, that’s a major dimension that the Cavs have lost, and there’s no amount of game-planning or motivational tactics that can make up for the loss of having a player who could step onto the court every night knowing he could just out-beast anyone else on the floor.

Right now, LeBron has two modes of functioning—”You guys do it” and “Okay, I’ll do it myself.” As corny as it sounds, the middle ground of “Okay, let’s do this together” needs to be found. That means not only making your teammates better with passes, but letting them make you better by moving without the ball and trusting they’ll get it to you in places that make the game easier for you. He needs to make passes that aren’t just home-run passes that will lead to a layup or open three if completed, but simple passes that disrupt the defense and make it possible to run a clean action that presents the defense with multiple tough options to stop.

Defensively, LeBron needs a “bodyguard” in the worst way—a guy who can shut down the other team’s main perimeter threat until the last 5-8 minutes of the game. He’s always needed it, but now he DESPERATELY needs one, and Marion, Joe Harris, and Dion Waiters aren’t cutting it. I agree he needs to lead by example, and his lax defense is hurting that cause, but he’s a human being with too many miles on him to give plus effort defensively and carry the offense for 35-plus minutes a night right now. What he can do to lead is play smarter and with more trust and his teammates offensively, and mind his Ps and Qs defensively without trying to take on the world—he doesn’t need to be covering ground from baseline-to-baseline like he did in his athletic prime, but he does need to make basic rotations and not let lapses in concentration turn into easy baskets.

Q #3: How long until the Cavs figure “it” out — another 10 games or longer?

And what will “it” look like? Since everyone loves comparisons, Miami started 9-8 in 2010-11 but then won 21 out of their next 22 games.

@JohnKrolikI have no idea. Offensively, I’d expect them to find a groove before the new year and get right up around the 50-game mark based just on that in the ever-soft East. Defensively, and this is why I had serious reservations about the Love trade, I’m just not really sure the pieces you need for a good defense are there, which is the main difference between this team and the 2010-11 Miami squad—their offense was fairly ugly, but LeBron and Wade were monster defenders, everyone went hard on that end, and they really knew how to grind teams down. (They also lost a lot of close games early, and throughout the regular season, which looked worse at the time—”LeBron can’t close!”—but in retrospect, is a better problem to have than getting flat-out outplayed more often than a team with this amount of talent should be.)

As a pessimist by nature, I’m not the right guy to ask this question. I’ll believe it when I see it, and not a second earlier.

Q #4: What would be the ideal trade (within reason) that would better secure Cleveland’s defense to playoff-caliber levels?

@JohnKrolikReason No. 2 I had serious reservations about the Love trade—there’s not that much great stuff within reason. The cupboard is fairly bare, assets-wise, unless any other GM is high on Tristan Thompson or (especially) Dion Waiters, and I’d be shocked if they were, especially on the latter front. Stein is reporting that the Cavs have been trying and failing to get Timofey Mozgov for months. That is a troubling sentence. Corey Brewer would be a nice upgrade over Marion, and could “bodyguard” for LeBron, but then you’ve got a guy who can’t shoot a lick in your starting backcourt. And as badly as the Cavs need a true rim protector, Varejao has been the second-best player on the team right now, and is the only guy who LeBron looks like he’s having fun playing with, so cutting his minutes is problematic.

What does the team need to get a top-10 defense? Probably a lock-down defender who can guard multiple positions and provide effective weak-side defense and rim protections. That’s Scottie Pippen or a time machine for Marion, so neither of those options look all that viable. What can the Cavs get within reason? I don’t know. Is there any GM who’d give up a plus defensive wing who doesn’t completely kill you on offense or a bona fide rim protector for a package headlined by Waiters right now? Because I don’t see it.

I think the Cavs’ best chance is to will their way, somehow, to scrape along as an average defensive team, and get the offense to click, which is much more realistic and would help the defense greatly—as we saw in the Wizards game, the Cavs are giving up way too many points right now by letting teams get the ball off of turnovers or missed shots instead of having to take it out of their own net.


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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle lives in D.C. with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.