Pace and space has gotten contagious around the NBA, and the Wizards are at least far ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers in that area. After losing his first game as head coach, Tyronn Lue alluded to his team's lack of fitness as a large factor in Saturday's 96-83 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
“Early we wanted to push it, we wanted to open the floor and I think we came out and did that," Lue told reporters. "And then I think we just dropped off the map. I think we got tired. I just don’t think we’re in good enough shape right now to play in the style that we want to play.”
To compete in today's NBA, even the 30-12 Cavs realize they were using an antiquated system. The Wizards implemented pace-and-space in training camp, 41 regular-season games ahead of Cleveland.
Conditioning is no longer an issue, and despite a host of injuries they even beat Cleveland with an eight-man rotation for their first loss at Quicken Loans Arena on Dec. 1.
The Cavs are 28th in pace (94.93). They want to be more like the elite teams when it comes to possessions per 48 minutes. The Wizards are fifth (99.66), only behind the No. 1 Sacramento Kings (101.93), No. 2 Golden State Warriors (101.75), No. 3 Boston Celtics (100.92) and No. 4 Phoenix Suns (100.70).
Switching systems in season, however, will be incredibly difficult. The Memphis Grizzlies have tried to do that out of necessity because they had too many injured bigs and have struggled. They're 27th in pace.
Coach Randy Wittman started Nene with Marcin Gortat for the first time in a win last week vs. the Miami Heat, but that was part matchup and part necessity. He couldn't risk Jared Dudley being matched against Chris Bosh. There's no turning back, but they do have the luxury of going back to two post players on the floor in certain situations.
Apparently, the Cavs are going to deploy Kevin Love with the second unit for longer stretches. Cleveland has enough cushion in the East that they may be able to get away with a tough stretch of losses in the short-term. But if Lue doesn't find the right balance and the players don't adapt quickly enough, it can get worse because the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls aren't that far back.