1. This might be a loaded question, but: Why are the Wizards improving, while the Cavaliers seem to continuously take steps back?
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid EIC: The difference, without taking this too far, is that the Wizards have a roster that fits together and the Cavaliers don’t. The Wizards, centered around John Wall, do things that play his strengths and have pieces around him that don’t do the same basic things Wall does. This makes the Wizards harder to defend and they’ve also added the correct veterans. On the other hand, the Cavaliers top three guards all need the ball in their hand and their offense is rather predictable. Cleveland also is just absurdly young and needed young talent to play better and do more than they were probably capable of. Washington, on the other hand, have done the opposite and it’s shown the court.
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: The Wizards actually have an identity, while the Cavs haven’t been able to even come close to forming an identity that isn’t “tire/dumpster/sewage fire.” Washington’s been the team-wise personification of a three-and-d team, developing into a top ten defensive team that, despite other offensive struggles, gets their offense by hitting a great percentage from deep. John Wall has really taken a leap in consistency this season, and the Marcin Gortat move prior to the season has worked out great for their offense. The Cavs, meanwhile, don’t have any particular things they do really well, and have several things they are downright atrocious at. That seems to be the difference here.
Ben Mehic, Wiz of Awes EIC: Despite their rosters being a bit different, both the Cavaliers and Wizards had their eyes set on the playoffs before the season began. Well, we’re passed the midway point in the season and the Wizards find themselves in the middle of the post-season picture, while the Cavaliers are at the bottom of the barrel in a weak Eastern Conference. Unlike the Cavaliers, the Wizards already had their core pieces (John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene, etc.) in place prior to the season, while Cleveland is still trying to figure out who’s even a part of their core. Wall has improved his game drastically, possibly topping Kyrie Irving as the best point guard in the conference, while Irving has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, including potentially wanting out of Cleveland. Everything that could’ve gone wrong for Cleveland, has went wrong, and I can’t say the same about the Wizards.
2. What can the Cavaliers learn from the Wizards in terms of team building and building around their star point guard?’
CM: This is a really simple and obvious answer, but the Chris Grant-era front office really added no one of value to try and maximize what Kyrie Irving does well. For instance, Irving isn’t exactly a plus defender and struggles to keep opposing point guards out of the paint? Let’s take a raw power forward with our top pick instead of a shot blocking center, even if he was injured. Irving is most effective with the ball in his hands, but let’s draft a shooting guard who needs the ball in his hands too and, a summer later, sign another high usage guard to be the sixth man. The Wizards, again on the right side of this conversation, drafted a shooting guard (Bradley Beal) who does everything Wall doesn’t on the offensive end. They’ve added on numerous plays that Wall can play with in the pick and roll. And perhaps most importantly, they added veterans who know their role and have helped Wall (and Beal) grow. Again, the Wizards have done everything the Cavaliers have failed to do.
TM: Maybe that you shouldn’t construct a team full of high-usage guards who can’t hit threes and posts who can’t score? Really, the Cavs didn’t take Kyrie’s strengths and weaknesses into account when constructing this roster. They have no spot-up shooters to allow Kyrie to kick out on drives. The team lacks a premier pick-and-roll threat for him to operate with. And when it became apparent that Kyrie is a lackadaisical defender at best, they chose to neglect bringing in a rim protecting big that can bail Kyrie out defensively. The Wizards have all of those things; they have a couple solid spot-up guys in Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster. They have a very, very good PNR threat in Marcin Gortat. And between Gortat and Kevin Seraphin, they always have a guy on the floor who at least has the size to challenge drives to the rim. That’s what the Cavs need if they’re going to go forward with a team specifically built for Kyrie’s talents.
BM: Well, first off, Cleveland has to find players that want to play for the Cavaliers. Prior to acquiring Nene from the Nuggets, the Wizards were a complete mess, similar to the Cavaliers. JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, and Nick Young didn’t seem to have any interest in helping the team win, and they had to go. Ernie Grunfeld brought in solid veterans like Nene, Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat, and even guys like Martell Webster and Al Harrington who turned out to be huge additions to the locker room. The Cavaliers have to change the culture around before they build around anybody. Kyrie Irving is still in his third season and he needs someone to learn from. It’ll take some patience, but Irving has the potential to turn the Cavaliers around, especially if he’s surrounded by quality veterans.
3. The Wizards just went 3-2 against a deadly stretch of teams and beat the Thunder and Blazers by double-digits. What’s been clicking for the Wizards lately?
CM: It starts with the defense, but the Wizards are getting good play from key role players on both sides of the ball. For example, against the Portland Trail Blazers (a game they won by 10) John Wall scored 22 points on 15 shots, five assists, three blocks and two steals. They are getting these two-way performances from their key players and taking full advantage by winning games that they otherwise get blown out in otherwise. The more important part of this equation is the defensive end, as they are turning a steal into two points on the other end and at the same time controlling the tempo. And again, the Cavaliers can learn from this. Cleveland, with Irving at point guard and a weird offensive dependent on production from their many guards, would be best served to push the pace and play at a higher pace while taking more gambles on the defensive end. Again, it’s all about fitting your personnel and getting the most out of them. Of late, the Wizards have and the Cavaliers simply have not.
TM: The Wizards have been spreading the ball around really nicely lately, which has led to a balanced attack in their wins over the Warriors, Thunder, and Blazers. They had five double-digit scorers in both the OKC and Portland teams, and had seven in Wednesday’s double-OT game against the Spurs. They’ve also played fairly solid defensive basketball, and kept the elite teams they’ve played from dictating the pace of the game. This has been perhaps the biggest key. Cavs fans have seen this week that if you let a team dictate the style of play and force you to match, that usually ends poorly. Dallas and L.A. both forced the Cavs into run-n-gun games and the Cavs got burned because they can’t defend anything. Meanwhile, Washington kept the OKC and Portland games at a slower crawl, and that really forced those two teams into some bad mistakes. If they do the same thing to the Cavs, they might win by 40.
BM: Defense. It’s really been that simple. When the Wizards are locked in defensively, like they’ve been in the past several games, they tend to stay competitive with any opponent. John Wall has played some terrific defense on opposing guards, while Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal do a great job of creating transition opportunities from picking off passes in lanes. The Wizards have never had a problem “getting up” for the good teams, but they still play down to their competition. If they stick to their defensive philosophies, they should be able to get more wins against top-tier teams, eventually putting them well above the .500 mark.