The Wizards were without Otto Porter, who sat out with a hip injury, on Sunday night against the Cavs and matters were further complicated by his replacement, Kelly Oubre, Jr., getting into early foul trouble. John Wall was in just his third game back after missing nine with a left knee injury. Markieff Morris still isn't himself and had to get an X-ray midgame after getting hit in the neck.
That's a lot of reasons one could point to for why the Wizards lost to the Cavaliers on Sunday night. The problem is that even all those things added together don't equal the plight of their opponent.
The Cavs have been without Isaiah Thomas all season and on Sunday they were missing Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert and Derrick Rose, leaving them dangerously thin at the guard position. They started 36-year-old Jose Calderon against Wall, one of the best point guards in the business.
The Cavs were playing the second game of a back-to-back set, having beaten the Jazz in Cleveland the night before. And the Cavs also didn't get a great shooting night from LeBron James, who managed a triple-double with 20 points but shot just 8-for-23 from the field. That's nowhere near his 57-point performance back in November in the first game between these teams.
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They were playing a back-to-back, were missing four key players and LeBron's shot was off, but the Cavs still had enough to secure a road win against a good team in the Wizards. A big reason why is because they have one of the deepest rosters in basketball. Despite missing a host of regulars, they still had enough capable options to roll a 10-man rotation and see all their players record a net rating of even or better.
Perhaps it's unfair to draw major conclusions from a matchup between these teams that excluded so many key figures, but on Sunday night the Wizards were reminded how they still have work to do in order to catch the Cavs, who have represented the Eastern Conference in three straight NBA Finals. Some would point to the obvious reason for that, how they have the best player on the planet and the Wizards do not. But it was hard not to notice the Cavs' depth as being another separator on Sunday night.
The Cavs, who have won 17 of their last 18 games, can win in a variety of ways and with a lot of different people contributing to the cause. Some of the players who came off the bench to help them win on Sunday would have much smaller roles if everyone on the roster were healthy. Jeff Green had 15 points and five rebounds in 29 minutes. Kyle Korver had 11 points and shot 4-for-6 from the field. Channing Frye and Cedi Osman, who may not see the floor if others had played, each had five points and were 4-for-6 combined from the field.
Through 30 games, more than a third of the 2017-18 season, the Wizards appear to be a deeper team after improving their bench, which was a noted weakness. Mike Scott has emerged as a consistent scorer. Ian Mahinmi is healthy and in recent weeks has started to round into form. Tomas Satoransky is developing into a nice backup point guard and Jodie Meeks has improved the backup shooting guard position from last season.
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Once Wall and Morris play to their career norms, the Wizards should be a better team than they were last season. But whether they have the depth to truly test the Cavaliers in a playoff series is a question we don't yet know the answer to.
The Wizards will have to make a decision at some point before the February 8 trade deadline, which is now 53 days away, of what they need to really give themselves a chance at a deep playoff run. And in order to go deep in the postseason, they will likely have to square off against the Cavs.
Not all of their decisions will be based on how it directly affects their matchup with Cleveland, but surely that will be kept in mind as the Wizards look ahead towards the playoffs. They know who has to be knocked off to get where they want to go.
So far through two meetings with the Cavs this season, the Wizards have lost both of those games and neither featured the two teams at full strength. In their first meeting on Nov. 3, Morris was in his first game back from sports hernia surgery and Thomas, of course, didn't play. Their next matchup will be Feb. 22, after the deadline, meaning they have all the data they will get in terms of how the teams stack up head-to-head.
Do the Wizards need to make a move in the next two months to get closer to the Cavs, or do they already have enough to measure up in the spring? That's not an easy call for the Wizards' front office to make.
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