The Cavaliers were beaten worse than soufflé eggs by the Washington Wizards on Tuesday and it’s a solid bet they had quiche the night before.
We’re not critiquing, just stating facts: Martin Prince would have a better chance knocking Nelson Mundt out than the Cavaliers did of overcoming the Wizards with their lethargic, one-eighth-assed effort. (To call it half-assed would be an insult to underachievers everywhere.)
In truth, this beating was as inevitable as the one that accompanies screwing over the neighborhood tough’s little sister. Perhaps by putting it behind them they can start with a clean slate, though we’re not so sure. Some of it was just a bad game and a bad effort. But some of it was exploiting lingering issues and providing a template for others.
It starts with a terrific point guard (John Wall) and ends in an utter inability to stop him from driving. It’s like a teen with the car’s keyless entry embedded in their wrist: How you gonna stop that? Similarly, short of getting the cops to put a boot on John Wall, the Cavaliers were clueless what to do.
The Wizards drove to the basket 31 times last night and finished 9-12 with 7 free throws for 25 points. They passed on 13 of those 31 occasions, producing six assists and but a single turnover. John Wall had 21 points before half, and by midway through the second it looked like they were ready to just go home and not talk about it like Browns fans.
We’d show you some lowlights but don’t want to punish you unnecessarily.
What was also disturbing was how often the Wizards were able to beat the Cavaliers back down the court after a made basket. Many of the Wizards’ shots came early in the shot clock, after beating the Cavaliers upcourt when attacking the not-yet-set defense.
They took 16 shots by the 18 second mark, almost one-fifth of their shots. But here’s the issue: It should be no surprise: Washington leads the league with 15.4 shots/game in that situation. How could the Cavaliers not be prepared for this?
It exploits one of the Cavaliers longest-running issues: Transition Defense. They’re 17th in the league in transition, in the 45th percentile according to NBA.com.
In part that’s because the team goes to the hole a lot behind LeBron, with the ballhandler then often going out of bounds, and in part because they hit the offensive boards pretty hard. Mostly it’s because the Cavs are in general slow to get back and identify opposing players in transition. It doesn’t help that this isn’t a particularly athletic team.
Exemption Slot Aside
(As an aside, if you’re looking for guys to add before the trade deadline, think athletic three/four. Tristan can’t be the only athletic guy on the floor, or sometimes the younger teams are going to hurt you. While Jefferson is good for the offense, he’s a big liability on defense. Shumpert’s return will help, but still could use someone with some length and athleticism in the frontcourt.
Someone like either Jeff Green, ideally, or a stretch 4 with athleticism. We’re thinking guys like Darrell Arthur (Nuggets, $2.8M), PJ Tucker (Suns $5.5M), Jeremy Evans (Mavericsk, $1.1M).
However, the other guy to keep your eye on is Trevor Ariza. If the Rockets decide to blow it up, the 30-year old Ariza could be on a bus out of town. He’s signed for cheap at $7.8 and $7.4 for the next two years and would fit easily within the Cavs’ exemption slot, and best of all he shoots the 3 more reliably than Shump (35% career) and plays defense (2.5+ steals/36 minutes), allowing James to play the 4 in Wine & Gold version of small-ball.)
Back to the Game
The Cavs couldn’t get anything going offensively. It took Timofey Mozgov less than nine minutes to commit four turnovers, two fouls and miss three points blank shots, one blocked by his evil-villain looking counterpart, Marcin Gortat. So much ineptness in so little time.
We are big fans of Timo and his rim protection is still very good. He’s the only thing that covers the whole that is the Cavaliers dribble penetration defense. Facing very good point guards like Wall or Toronto’s Kyle Lowry (even the Piston’s Reggie Jackson), the team’s poor PG defense is exposed and everyone in the backline must cover. But neither Love nor Thompson are much help against driving guards, only Timo is.
However Timo has been so slow and out of sync on offense that it’s hard to trust him. At least that appears to be LeBron’s thought. Mozgov is turning into Kevin Love of last year – in LeBron’s mental doghouse, and unlikely to emerge soon. How can you play with LeBron and not be looking for the pass, and yet, Timo’s brief second half stint included a pass from James that bounced off and un-looking Mozgov’s chest and rolled out of bounds.
Yup. That kind of night.
Speaking after the game, Blatt again suggested that Mozgov is as close to physically well as he needs to get. What the suddenly lumbering Russian needs, Blatt said, was repetitions. The issue is that with games every other day or more frequently, the team’s rarely had two consecutive days off without one being a travel day. That leaves no time for practice.
Blatt’s suggestion is that what’s hurting Timo isn’t his knee or even that much the conditioning so much as the timing and consistency that comes from playing, which he’s only getting to do in games. Watching his inability to finish near the rim last night it was hard to buy that his knee isn’t bothering him. Larry Bird had more left than we saw from Timo.
But certainly on offense his feet, hands and the rest of his body all seem to be on different buses. What can be done about that is anybody’s guess. Like every other answer to the Cavs’ woes, the solution seems to be: wait until they’re healthy.You don’t think at some point they need to start actually playing hard at some point other than in the fourth quarter.
James had a bad game though he was often the best Cav on the floor. He made nine turnovers with only four assists. He said after the game that the team was outplayed in every way from the beginning to end. “We need to play with some consistency,” he said, ignoring the fact that we just witnessed the most complete & consistent game of the season. Completely and thoroughly crappy.
This is perhaps the only good thing to be taken from the game. (The other good thing to be taken from the night was watching Iman Shumpert take jump shots before the game. Hopefully he’s less than two weeks away.)
James seemed thoroughly embarrassed. He was somber and spoke softly, like J.R. Smith. He didn’t even dress. It was the quickest he’s done an interview after a game, and the briefest that I remember since his return. James was ready to bury this game, like that regrettable Psycho remake of a few years ago.
That’s the positive. Remember when James called out “the team” for it’s free throw shooting when, with regard to volume and percentage, he was the biggest offender? Well, perhaps that’s how James motivates himself – by refusing to allow himself to be shamed. Since that game in Detroit LeBron is shooting 82% from the line.
Let’s hope we see a similar turnaround from the Cavaliers. They aren’t good enough to just step on the court and beat teams. That’s certainly not the Warriors approach this year. The Cavaliers are injured but they’re playing so inconsistently on both sides of the ball it’s unclear what’s to be done.
Varejao’s looked okay when he’s been in there. He was +2 last night and as soon as he hit the floor the team’s energy changed. But he’s not played more than 10 minutes in most games as Blatt keeps him bubble-wrapped.
Whether it’s starting Matthew Dellavedova over Mo Williams hole-y (shit) defense or finding some answer to their center woes, the Cavaliers need to take a look at what’s going on and probably a long hard look in the mirror about their inconsistent effort.
Even if their transition and dribble penetration defense is Swiss cheese and their utilization of Kevin Love more than spotty, they need to find something they can do consistently, and for most teams that’s play hard. But not this team, so far. They sure look talented but they don’t look like a team that’s ready to compete for a championship, or like they’re even that anxious for one, LeBron excused. Maybe this is what they mean about the eye of a champion, but whatever it is, the Cavs have generally lacked it.
You can follow us on Twitter @CRS_1ne, and read our column here on the Scene Blog after most games.