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Wizards' loss to Cavs displays difference in depth between the teams

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Wizards' loss to Cavs displays difference in depth between the teams

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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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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