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Takeaways from the Wizards' road win over Cavs behind John Wall's monster game

Takeaways from the Wizards' road win over Cavs behind John Wall's monster game

CLEVELAND – From the beginning, the focus that the Wizards had lacked in a recent spate of games since the All-Star break was back. And with 24 first-half points from John Wall, they got ahead early and stayed there as they begin a five-game road trip in style by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena.

Wall (37 points, 11 assists) had his 47th double-double and Bradley Beal (27 points, six assists) were better than LeBron James (24 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists) and Kyrie Irving (23 points, four assists) as they finally won a game in the season series.

The Cavs (47-25) took it 2-1, but this victory was about more than just this game. It avenged an epic 140-135 overtime loss in D.C. on Feb. 6 when James banked in a three to force the extra session and Beal scored 41.

It keeps the Wizards (45-28) ahead of the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 seed in the East and re-establishes them as a legitimate contender after so-so performances with losses to the Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks and Raptors, the latter of whom owns the tiebreaker because they won the season series with Washington 2-1.

The start was fast and furious. Wall made 8 of 8 shots in the first quarter as he got into the paint, was confident in pulling up for jump shots when defenders went under the screen and was too much for Irving to handle.

When the Cavs went to Deron Williams, who has traditionally not fared well in the matchup with Wall, it wasn’t much better.

Jason Smith (10 points) was a spark off the bench as his putback with 1.1 seconds gave them a 71-61 lead at halftime when the lead was reduced to single digits. But it was Kelly Oubre (16 points, seven rebounds) who did the trick in the second half. Markieff Morris (14 points, six rebounds) and Marcin Gortat (10 points, five rebounds) also had their moments.

Oubre continued his streak of inspired play on both ends, having several key putbacks off missed shots late to push the lead to 115-105. Every time the Cavs produced a bucket, the Wizards matched to keep comfortably ahead. Cleveland emptied its bench with two minutes left to concede defeat. 

[RELATED: Wizards Tipoff podcast, Ep. 5: Things to clean up before the playoffs]

Kevin Love (17 points, seven rebounds) was held in check after posting 39 points and 12 rebounds in the last meeting. Tristan Thompson (nine points) was limited, too. He had 22 and 12 then. 

The Cavs led 8-7 in the first quarter but never again. They allowed the Wizards to shoot 49 of 82, or 59.8% from the field, and outrebound them 40-32.

--Wall went at Irving every chance he had. The Wizards cleared out his side of the floor and gave him the space to go 1 vs. 1 and finish or force help. When they did, Wall found open players. Cleveland had no answer. Wall also pushed the ball even when he didn’t have numbers to exploit Cleveland’s uncoordinated transition defense with great success. He combined with Beal to attempt 15 free throws. They made 14 of them. 

--The Wizards had gone away from establishing Gortat out of the gate in favor of more motion in the offense. But the first play was called for him as Beal set him a cross screen to get Gortat position. He drop stepped on Thompson and got the layup. The hustle and effort from Gortat and Morris -- both scrambled to the floor for a loose ball and Gortat fed Beal who went end to end for the and-1 -- one-upped Love and Thompson.

--James, who had his right cornea scratched in a win over the Hornets on Friday night, was allowed to wear eyewear for protection. But the league denied him wearing tinted ones which would give him a competitive advantage as defenders wouldn’t be able to read his eyes. James missed a three late in the first quarter. He soon would toss the eyewear to the floor in frustration and go without the rest of the way.

--Bojan Bogdanovic (lower back soreness) was a late scratch from the lineup. Before tipoff, coach Scott Brooks said all of his players were available but about 30 minutes before tipoff he was out. The Cavs didn’t have Iman Shumpert (knee).

--Beal had 41 points in the last meeting, taking advantage of his matchup as Irving marked him a lot early. The Cavs sent multiple bodies at him on the catch and he kept alive his dribble and beat them with the pass and began the game shooting 5-for-10 to complement Wall’s explosion. They gave Wall shots and he made them pay early. Beal had open looks constantly but shot just 2-for-6 on threes.

--Ian Mahinmi took a knee to the left hip/upper thigh from Richard Jefferson and was slow to rise in the first half. He stayed in the game but only played nine minutes and didn’t return. But it wasn’t because of injury, according to the team. They simply wanted to stay small with Morris at the five late and it worked. They forced the Cavs into series turnovers in the final minutes. One put Wall in transition and shoveling a pass to Porter for a dunk. They only forced 12 turnovers but converted them into 21 points. Mahinmi said after the game that he was sore but had a hip pointer. 

-- Morris didn’t pick up his first foul until 3:04 was left in the first half to prevent a breakaway. But by 1:03, he had three fouls. One came on a cheap reach-in which is what gets him into foul trouble so often. He was able to stay on the floor when the Wizards went to a small lineup in the fourth and not get into a deeper hole. He didn’t pick up his fourth until 3:37 remained.

--Oubre caused havoc in the fourth quarter. He ran out to challenge Jefferson (10 points) on a three that altered the trajectory to force a miss. He jumped the passing lane to James to cause a turnover and got out in transition for the layup. The Cavs had gotten it down to a two-possession game but it was quickly back at 107-98 with 9:05 left. Oubre then cleaned up missed shots from Wall and Morris for layups to kill their momentum.

--Wall's determination to push the ball produced a 27-4 edge in fast-break points. 

[RELATED: VIDEO: LeBron James throws glasses off court]

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John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

The Wizards in recent years have made a habit of trying to speak things into existence and then not having them actually come into existence. They have talked the talk and then sometimes haven't walked the walk.

A few instances come to mind, including Bradley Beal saying of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers that "they didn't want to see us" in the playoffs. Beal also said in November that the Washington was the best team in the East, just hours before James scored 57 points in the Wizards' building.

John Wall has made similar proclamations in the past, usually about himself, including how he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Now, these statements were all relatively normal for professional athletes who pride themselves in always feeling like they are the best player on the floor or the field. It's part of the mindset that makes them who they are.

But when those statements are made and then not backed up, they can be tough to defend, and especially for a Wizards team which last season seemed to overlook the lesser teams and suffered a down year because of it.

Wall insists all that is about to change. In his 1-on-1 interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall said the message this year will be much different, much more muted than it has been in the past.

"We want to go out with a different mindset and a different focus. We're not trying to go in and think we're a team that has already established something and got respect from people. We have to earn that respect and that means going out and competing every night against the good teams or the bad teams," he said.

That doesn't mean Wall isn't confident. His belief in himself hasn't wavered and, in fact, he may believe in his team more now than ever. That's because he is happy with the offseason the front office has produced.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green in free agency, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. All should help the Wizards improve between Howard representing an upgrade at starting center and the others providing much-needed depth.

When Wall was asked by Chris if this is the most complete team he has played with in Washington, Wall left no doubts.

"Yeah, for sure. I definitely think so," he said. "I think it gives us the opportunity where we don't have to play as many minutes. That's the key. At the end of the year, you kind of fall short because you're fatigued. Nobody uses that as an excuse. You play and try to get into the best shape possible. But if you're playing 24 minutes, the whole half, and then 24 minutes and the whole half, you kind of get tired at some point. I think those guys can take a little of the burden and pressure off of us at times."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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