The Washington Wizards will play in what could be their only nationally televised game of the season tonight, as they face the Cleveland Cavaliers on ESPN at 7 p.m. at Capital One Arena.
The Wizards are coming off one of their worst performances of the young season thus far against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday. With a very inexperienced roster, games like this are to be expected this season. How this young roster responds to adversity will be put to the test as they face yet another roster chalk full of developing players.
Key to Victory: Getting Consecutive Stops
The Wizards have been atrocious defensively to start the season, something else that was to be expected before the season tipped off. The injury to John Wall and trading Tomas Satoransky to the Bulls meant the Wizards were ready to start fresh at the point guard position for the 2019-20 season. The team opted to go extremely small compared to those two point guards by bringing in Ish Smith (6’0) and Isaiah Thomas (5’9), which has made the defense worse than it already was. Isaiah Thomas’s limits on the defensive end have even forced the Wizards to try a 2/3 zone defensive set when he enters the game occasionally. Combine the lack of size at the guard position with the lack of experience at the forward positions, with Isaac Bonga, Troy Brown Jr. and Rui Hachimura all receiving heavy minutes, the defense is going to have its struggles.
However, a lack of height and experience is no excuse for some of the poor defensive nights the Wizards have started the season with. Oftentimes, a lack of defensive communication or effort getting back on defense has resulted in runs that have been impossible to come back from. Simple lapses on the defensive end need to be cleaned up fast.
With the Wizards coming into this game with the fourth lowest defensive rating in the league at 112.5, and the Cavaliers entering with the eighth lowest at 110.4, whichever team buckles down to get consecutive stops will win this game. The Wizards have shown plenty of offensive ability so far this season, but the defense must improve greatly to consistently win. The Cavaliers are the perfect team to bounce back against, as they sit at 23rd in the league in points per game, only scoring 106 points per game. The Wizards goal should be to hold the Cavs to their average, as they have won in each of their games that they have held their opponents to less than 100 points this season.
Match-up to Watch For: Kevin Love vs Rui Hachimura
Rui Hachimura has cooled off a bit since his incredible first four games of his NBA career, in which he dropped 18 points per game and 7 rebounds per game. In his past three games, Hachimura has averaged 5.3 points per game and 4.7 rebounds per game, and was held scoreless in his past game against the Pacers. Don’t fret too much, though, as all rookies go through ups and downs in their first season.
A lack of minutes has also been a reason for his drop in play. Injuries to Wizards’ forwards allowed Hachimura to average 33 minutes per game in the first four games of the year. The return of CJ Miles and Troy Brown Jr. from their respective injuries has forced some of his minutes to be taken away. Foul trouble also limited him to just 16 minutes against the Pistons after scoring 10 points in the first quarter. He has averaged just 20 minutes per game the last three games.
Rui Hachimura will have his hands full on the defensive end yet again, this time in a matchup with former All-Star and NBA Champion Kevin Love. Love isn’t the same player he once was with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who could drop 30 points and 20 rebounds consistently on any given night. He might not even be the same player he was when he was the third option behind Lebron James and Kyrie Irving just a couple seasons ago. But what Love has now is the opportunity to be the first option again like he was in Minnesota.
Love is having a strong start to the season averaging 18.9 points per game, and has looked like his younger, bigger self on the boards, averaging 14.4 rebounds per game. Love is always a tough matchup to guard at the power forward position due to his ability to play either inside or out, by dominating at the three point line, or on the offensive glass. He is shooting the three ball at a 39.1 % rate this season, meaning Hachimura won’t be able to leave him wide open on the pick-and-pop’s he has been so good at over the years.
Story to Watch For: Can Bradley Beal Correct His Three-Point Shot?
Bradley Beal is coming off a 30-point, five assist, five rebound performance on 12-29 shooting against the Pacers on Wednesday, which looks pretty great right? Well, if you include the fact that he shot just 1-12 from three-point range, you might look at that stat-line differently. Beal has not started the season shooting the three-point shot like we are accustomed to seeing. He has shot just 28.8 % from three-point range this season, after shooting 35.1 % from three last season, and over 37% in each year of his career prior to that. His slight decline in three point percentage last season was a product of a couple things. John Wall’s injury meant there was no longer a facilitator there to give Bradley Beal wide open three-point attempts. Another reason is because Bradley Beal has become more of the facilitator himself, rather than the spot-up shooter he was earlier in his career.
With the ball in his hands more, the three-point shots have been tougher attempts. But at 28 percent this year, Beal’s struggles are likely temporary. It isn’t unreasonable to believe Beal will snap out of his shooting slump soon, and it could be against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have young guards posted at each starting guard spot. Rookie Darius Garland starts at one guard spot, while last season’s first rounder Colin Sexton starts at the other. Their lack of defensive experience at the NBA level could be the perfect game to get Beal’s three-point game kickstarted this season.