In their dominant Game 2 win, the Cleveland Cavaliers showed the
experience of a team that battled its way to the NBA Finals last season. The
lessons they learned in that journey are on full display in this series against the
Washington Wizards, who came completely unraveled in the second half Monday, as
epitomized by Brendan Haywood's flagrant pushing foul on LeBron James.
Cleveland slowly suffocated the Wizards with its size and physical
defensive play, bringing the hard fouls and physical toughness
Washington had promised but could not deliver. With the Cavaliers' shooters
hitting timely 3s and James taking over when necessary, the Wizards
were lucky to lose by only 30.
Game 2 began with the Wizards going back to the passing, screening and
cutting motion of their Princeton offense, which they had abandoned in the
disastrous closing minutes of Game 1. They got open shots and drives in the
paint and stayed in a nice offensive rhythm for much of the first half.
However, they blew some easy shots around the basket and made poor shot selections toward the end of the first half.
The Wizards also had a number of spacing and timing problems, with offensive
players allowing help defenders to jam driving lanes. Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao constantly were around the foul line area,
blocking traffic and clogging the lane.
Look for the Wizards to make some adjustments in their timing and
positioning to try to clear the foul line area for more drives and cuts. They will either send
the weak-side guard through to the opposite side or slide the wing man
down to the corner.
Another problem the Wizards faced in Game 2 was that Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler did a poor job in
the high pick-and-roll. The ball handler makes this play go, and his job is
to come off that screen hard and force the defense to hedge out hard to
prevent him from turning the corner. The Wizards' ball handlers consistently
conceded the corner to bigger, slower Cavs defenders -- sometimes stopping
in their tracks. Only Roger Mason came off hard, and only once --
drawing a first-half foul on James.
By coming off the screen soft, they eliminated their option to shoot the gap -- to split between the two defenders and go to the basket. It was the
equivalent of a football handoff at the line for no gain. Look for the
Wizards' guards to come off harder and their screeners to
change their angles and come from beside or below the defender to force him
to chase the ball handler over the top.
The Wizards also failed to push the ball in transition, and this is
something they must do in Game 3. They cannot win a half-court, grind-it-out
affair. They must consider running at every opportunity and pulling it back
out when a good shot is not available.
The Cavaliers were outstanding in their half-court offense in Game 2, running a
high-low set for Ilgauskas with Wallace flashing into the high
post. As Wallace is not much of an offensive threat, the Wizards double-
teamed off him, allowing him to slide to open areas while
Washington rotated and allowing James to find him for some easy
James also was able to attack the basket in transition, and there is not a
player or team in the NBA that can keep him from getting to the basket if
he can run in a straight line at full-steam ahead. The Wizards
consistently picked him up inside the 3-point line, which was much too
late, and all they could do was foul or get dunked on.
They must get to James as soon as possible in the half court and make him
change directions. The Wizards did a better job of defending him in the
half-court sets by running a second defender at him to force him to give up the
However, as solid as the Wizards were defensively, they were late in their
rotations back to shooters Wally Szczerbiak and Daniel Gibson. Devin Brown
and Delonte West also hit 3s, which caused the Wizards to leave
their double-teams on Ilgauskas and James and tag those shooters. Defense against the Cavs is an
almost impossible task when those shots are falling.
Washington must be concerned about Butler's lack of effectiveness and
his seeming lack of desire to be aggressive on the offensive end. Plus,
Gilbert Arenas clearly is not healthy. He has no explosion or lift, and the
Wizards have to rethink how -- or if -- they will use him in Game 3. This is
no time for Washington to have a player trying to get his game right.
As dominant as Cleveland looked in Game 2, all it really did was hold
serve. Nothing really changes in a series until somebody
wins a road game.
And as bad as Washington looked in Game 2, keep in mind that this is a team that
beat Boston in back-to-back games in January and beat New Orleans twice this
season. The Wizards might have lost to Cleveland twice during the regular season, but they beat the Cavs in their third
James and the supreme confidence he has instilled in his teammates
might be too much for the Wizards to overcome, but look for the Wizards to
turn things around and make this a series.
PREDICTION: Wizards win Game 3
Mike Moreau is the director of basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves as an NBA analyst for Hoopsworld.