Opening Statements: Wizards vs Cavs, Game 55 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Cavs, Game 55

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Updated: February 20, 2015

Washington Wizards vs Cleveland Cavaliers - Truth About It.net

You will be pardoned for suspecting that fate arranged tonight’s Wizards-Cavs tilt at Verizon Center, and not, you know, whoever makes the NBA schedule. You may especially be forgiven for feeling this way if you are a fan of the Wizards, a team upon whom fate almost never smiles, because the truth is this: by all recent evidence, the Cavs appear to be hitting their stride at roughly the same time that the Wizards are losing theirs, certainly not altogether, but enough to raise a few alarms. And now the healthy and confident Cavs come to town with a chance to overtake Washington in the standings on national television. Thanks for nothing, fate.

Recent trends aside, though, in a vacuum and on paper the Washington-Cleveland matchup is a tantalizingly even one, and if both teams used the All-Star break to iron out a few wrinkles, we could be in for a fascinating contest. There is, of course, the much-ballyhooed seesaw John Wall-Kyrie Irving matchup, if that’s your kind of thing. Maybe it should be, if, as they say, styles make fights: a straight-up quality comparison between the two players has always been absurd—they’re both great! deal with it—but their respective strengths pose unique challenges in head-to-head situations, and watching them battle at or near the pivot point of a contest between two good, talented teams (for a change) should be a treat for any basketball fan.

It’s tough to pin down the exact strengths of this constantly changing Cleveland team, but where they started the season shallow, undersized, underpowered, disjointed, and observably miserable, they certainly entered the break having seemingly shored up at least their interior heft, scoring punch, and perimeter rotation. Interestingly, though, with their acquisition of Timofey Mozgov and the corresponding interior stability thereby gained, they might have made themselves suddenly less threatening to the Wizards. In simple terms, Marcin Gortat, as a Wizard, has completely owned Timofey Mozgov, including earlier this season, when Mozgov was still a member of the Denver Nuggets. For all of Mozgov’s strengths as a hulking long-armed giant, Gortat’s relatively nimble feet have given him a hell of a time. The per-game numbers are pretty gory: Mozgov has been held to five points per game on 6-for-16 shooting, and fewer than six rebounds per game, while Gortat has gotten healthy to the tune of about 16 points and eight rebounds per meeting. This will be a trend to keep in mind as tonight’s tilt unfolds—it’s not unreasonable to think that this player matchup could swing the contest one way or another.

Then, of course, there will be the crucial minutes in which Cleveland’s reserves share the floor with Washington’s calamitous plus/minus-shredding bench-heavy lineups. Randy Wittman’s use of his bench will carry extra intrigue by the departure, this week, of Andre Miller, who had finally turned, as we all eventually must, into a pumpkin. Ramon Sessions, a player of such profound value that he was worth trading, straight up, for a pumpkin, will be called upon to lend a chaotic, playmaking presence to those nightly few minutes of basketball in which John Wall is unavailable to form the bulk of Washington’s humble offensive attack. Sessions has had a rough season, and, look, he’s never been a special NBA player, but it’s possible to detect at least some possible reason why this might work: Sessions, unlike late-career Andre Miller, can actually move quickly in three dimensions. That alone, for now, will provide a measure of fresh hope for Wizards fans who’ve grown despondent over the team’s utter two-way futility whenever Wall takes a breather.

We’re piling up reasons to feel good about Washington’s chances, tonight: a point guard matchup that is, at worst, a wash; historical evidence that wrings a potential Washington advantage out of Cleveland’s big interior upgrade, for which they traded two first-round draft picks; a glimmer of hope for Washington’s recently-brutal bench (if Sessions suits up tonight). Add to these that Nene is a sensational defender who should not be flummoxed by the task of keeping up with this version (or any other) of Kevin Love; that Cleveland’s other big mid-season finds, a hot-shooting J.R. Smith and the basketball-player-like Iman Shumpert, are the same duo who formed part of the core of a Knicks team that could hardly operate a light switch, let alone play coherent NBA basketball; and that the Cavs, even after all the upgrades, are still a bottom-ten defensive team lacking in standout individual defenders. There are reasons to like Washington’s chances! And, hey, lookit, it’s a home game! By God, the stars are practically aligned.

In my lifetime, this has been the kind of game the Wizards lose, and I’ve been alive long enough now for that trend to take on a kind of supernatural significance, as if this game and others are in some way tugged into line by the precedence of all those earlier ones over the years. Of course this is foolish: each game is its own little self-contained event, related to the ones before and after it mostly by the tendencies of the participants. And, anyway, this particular game is just one in a season of 82, and more specifically in a 28-game sprint to the playoffs. It’s just a game. Just one damn game.

What I’m saying here is this: if the Wizards rediscover their earlier form and the Cavs regress a little and the individual matchups tilt as described above, and if the Wizards emerge victorious, it will feel like an important win and late-season statement for the team and organization. If the opposite should happen, and recent trends continue, with the Cavs running in like gangbusters and the Wizards stuck playing tense, disjointed, uninspired basketball, it will feel an awful lot like this one was cruelly served up by fate. When the Wizards needed a visit from the Knicks or Sixers to help them get tuned up for a tough closing schedule, fate delivered a charging Cavs squad, the last team to whom Wizards fans can stand losing, to cast us all back into #SoWizards mode. It will be helpful, either way, to remind ourselves that all any one game is is one damn game.

Repeat that to yourself, later, during the game, whatever happens, but also now (to be safe) and also before and during and after every game. It’s just one game. No more or less significant than any other, no matter what it might do to the standings. Take a deep breath—it’s just one damn game.

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Chris Thompson