Cleveland Maybe one day in the future the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers, two teams built around exciting young point guards, will be playoffs rivals again. For now they are rivals in rebuilding and will meet tonight dealing with different circumstances.
The Wizards are playing their best basketball of the condensed 66-game NBA season and have a chance at a five-game winning streak for the first time since November of 2007. That was at the beginning of the Wizards last playoff season that ended with a loss to the Cavaliers in the first round.
The Cavaliers are ahead in victory total with 21 wins to the Wizards 18, but they have been struggling. The Cavaliers have dropped five of their last six games or put more dramatically 17 of their last 21 games. Their most recent defeat, a 109-101 loss to Memphis, was seen as an improvement because the Cavaliers five previous losses were by an average of 21.2 points.
It has not helped the Cavaliers that Kyrie Irving, the exciting point guard they are building around, has been injured. Irving missed nine games with a shoulder injury and has only been back in the lineup for the last four games. Irving did not play when the Cavaliers beat the Wizards 98-89 on April 14 at Verizon Center.
Irving was named on Tuesday The Sporting News NBA rookie of the year and he is considered the front runner for the league honor. Irving has averaged 18.8 points and 5.5 assists in his first season. If Irving finishes the season averaging above 18 points and 5 assists, he will join Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and LeBron James as the only number one overall draft picks to reach those numbers.
While Irving has impressed the Cavaliers, John Wall is closing his sophomore NBA season with performances worthy of his number one overall selection in 2010. Wall had 16 points and 14 assists in Mondays 101-73 win over Charlotte. With at least 13 points and 13 assists in his last two games, Wall joins Bostons Rajon Rondo as the only players to put up those numbers in consecutive games this season.
He (Wall) is maturing to the point where we are seeing less and less of running over people in the open court, said Wizards head coach Randy Wittman. He is picking and choosing where he can put his head down and get to the basket and when he can just find guys in transition.
Wall has had no trouble picking out rookie Jan Vesely in transition. While Kevin Seraphin is dominating the conversation about most improved Wizards player, Vesely is quietly making progress. Against the Bobcats, Vesely had 16 points on 8 of 8 shooting from the field. Vesely instincts are strong and now he just needs a mid-range shot to go with them.
As always central to the Wizards success will be their ability to play an up-tempo game. On the season the Wizards are ranked third in the NBA in fast break points at 17.3 per game. When they met on April 14 the Cavaliers held the Wizards to 6 fast break points. On average the Cavaliers allow only 11.5 fast break points per game which is the third fewest in the NBA.
The Wizards cant catch the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference table, but they are playing like they are on a playoff run. Nenes return from a foot injury only added more energy and confidence to a team that was already competing at a high level. As difficult as this season has been at times for the Wizards, many players dont want it to end.
Thats the saddest part, said Wall. You play this game that you love and work because you want to be in the playoffs. Weve got a lot to look forward to this summer and prepare ourselves for next year. If we add a couple of pieces, we know what we have on this team and what we can do when we play together.