Tonight’s game is not for the faint of heart. If you want to watch a game filled with star-power, high-quality defense, and great end-to-end action, then this matchup between the Cavaliers and Wizards isn’t for you. What this game lacks in excitement, however, it makes up for in profitability.
The Cavaliers are the worst team in the NBA. At 11-43, they have given up on winning this season, instead focusing their efforts towards developing young players. The Cavs’ roster is comprised of rookies, G-league players, and career journeymen. With player development being the top priority, they have allowed their younger players to play through mistakes. This has resulted in a season’s worth of inefficient performances from Collin Sexton and Jordan Clarkson. The Cavaliers have lost two in a row and eight of their last 10 games. Cleveland is 2-6 when playing on two days’ rest.
Washington’s disappointing season continued Wednesday night in a blowout loss to Milwaukee. Originally pegged to contend in the East, the Wizards have fallen short of expectations. Washington currently sits 10 games below .500 and four games behind Miami for the final playoff spot. The Wizards are fresh off an active deadline that saw them trade away Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris. Washington comes into tonight’s matchup trying to halt the bleeding of a three-game losing streak. The Wizards will play this game on one day’s rest (11-22 record in such situations).
The Wizards and Cavaliers come into tonight’s matchup in similar shape. Both teams recently traded away key contributors and are reeling from losing streaks. However, Washington is still trying to win games. The Wizards will also be eager to avenge last week’s 116-113 loss to the Cavs.
Offensively, the Cavaliers lack an identity. With the roster in constant shuffle, the coaching staff has had a tough time implementing a system. Losing Cedi Osman, Alec Burks, and Rodney Hood will only exacerbate this issue. Cleveland ranks 26th in offensive rating (105.4) and 28th in points per game (102.4). As mentioned before, the team has allowed Clarkson and Sexton to lead the offense. Subsequently, the Cavaliers have based their offense around inefficient two-point shots. Cleveland ranks seventh in the NBA in percentage of points from two-pointers (56.9), fourth in percentage of points from mid-range (14.1), and 29th in effective field-goal percentage (49.6).
The Cavaliers’ defense makes them truly awful. Cleveland’s defensive rating is not only a league-worst 116.7, but the gap between them and the 29th-ranked Suns is the same as the distance between the Suns and the 20th-ranked Hornets. According to Basketball-Reference, Cleveland’s defense is the worst the NBA has seen since 1974. The Cavaliers rank last in opposing two-point percentage (55.8), 29th in three-point percentage (37.3), and 30th in effective field-goal percentage (55.9).
Osman and Sexton have been tasked with leading the team’s perimeter defense. This has not gone well. Both Osman and Sexton rank in the bottom five in defensive rating among qualified players. With Sexton on the court, opposing teams have an offensive rating of 124.7 and an effective field-goal percentage of 57.4. Cleveland’s putrid defense isn’t just their fault, as continuity and injuries have plagued the team.
Washington relies on a variety of ways to score. Washington is 11th in points in the paint per game (49.1), 13th in fast-break points per game (14.1), seventh in percentage of points off turnovers (16.8), 15th in percentage of points from mid-range (10.4), and 14th in percentage of points from three-pointers (30.4). This type of scoring diversification is more a testament to the Wizards’ offensive versatility than the team’s lack of identity. The Wizards rank 16th in offensive rating (109.2) and ninth in points per game (113.4).
In John Wall’s absence, Bradley Beal has handled a bigger scoring role, averaging 24.9 points on 47 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent shooting from three-point land. After initially struggling without Wall, the team has appeared to find a nice offensive groove. Washington is averaging 124.3 points and has a 117.1 offensive rating over the last three games.
Washington’s defensive struggles, however, continue to be a thorn in its side. The Wizards are 26th in defensive rating (112.3) and 29th in opponent points per game (116.6). Washington’s three-point defense is the root of its problems. The Wizards rank 30th in opposing three-point percentage (37.7) and 28th in opposing points per game from threes (37.0).
The Wizards are a rough matchup for the Cavaliers. Cleveland will be unable to exploit the Wizards’ biggest weakness (three-point defense), as no team makes fewer threes per game (9.3) than the Cavaliers. With their defensive personnel further depleted, the Cavaliers will also struggle to put up any resistance against Washington’s red-hot offensive attack. Furthermore, the Cavaliers do not possess the type of wing defender who can slow down Beal.
The opening line for this game was -10.5 Washington. Since then, the line has suffered reverse movement, shifting down a whole point to -9.5. With only 49% of public betting action placed on the Cavs’ spread, the sharps can be pinpointed for the reverse line movement. Since the Cavaliers are regularly faded by the public, I would expect the Wizards to receive heavier public action as the day progresses.
It is hard to ignore this type of reverse line movement. The sharps clearly found value in the Cavaliers’ line at 10.5, and the number changed swiftly. However, it isn’t often that the Cavaliers receive a single-digit number on the road. Thus, there is value in capitalizing on this rare occasion and taking the home team.
Even though both teams come into tonight’s matchup reeling, the Wizards are the only side worth backing. Washington is blistering-hot offensively and will have no trouble exploiting Cleveland’s historically bad defense. The Cavaliers’ inability to hit three-pointers will prevent them from taking advantage of Washington’s porous perimeter defense. Additionally, the Wizards are still trying to make the playoffs and will be eager to snap their three-game losing streak against a team they recently lost against. Take the Wizards at -9.5 in what should be a blowout.