The Cleveland Cavaliers, supposedly weary on the second night of a back-to-back, came to Capital One Arena on Monday and made the Washington Wizards look like the blocks of Stonehenge. The visitors went where they wanted and shot what they liked, darting in and out of the paint and dancing along the arc while zipping their way to a 114-91 win.
The Cavaliers’ dismantling of their hosts made it hard to believe that it was just a week ago that the Wizards were celebrating a six-game winning streak.
Since that win at the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 30, Washington (24-29) has surrendered two 20-point leads to log two losses and lost two of its stars along the way: Neither Bradley Beal (left foot soreness) nor Kyle Kuzma (left ankle sprain) played Monday.
Beal missed his 22nd game of the season with his sixth different malady. Kuzma was injured when he landed on the foot of a Brooklyn Nets player during Saturday’s loss.
“Two losses when we’re up 20 — we’re not robots. We’re going to maybe be . . . our energy was a little bit lower,” the Wizards’ Kristaps Porzingis said. “Felt like we could be on this super-high wave of eight- — plus, if the Detroit game happened — nine-game winning streak. Everybody would be talking about us. And we lost two games that were ours. Of course, I think it has an effect on our emotional state. But this is where we have to prove that we’re ready to be mentally strong as a team.”
Without Beal and Kuzma, Coach Wes Unseld Jr. added wing Will Barton and forward Anthony Gill, back to play his first game without a practice beforehand following a bout of covid-19, to the rotation. Rookie Johnny Davis checked in with 6:17 to play for his first action since he played spot minutes against the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 28.
But the Cavaliers (34-22) cooked whoever was on the court, wherever they were.
“Our energy from the beginning was a little bit, we were trying to ease our way into the game,” Porzingis said, “but these guys came to play right away.”
The Cavaliers repeatedly demonstrated their versatility, such as in the third quarter when Jarrett Allen came out of nowhere for a lightning-quick block on a Deni Avdija drive. Donovan Mitchell (21 points) collected the rebound and flew to the other end, getting to the paint before sending a kick-out pass to Caris LeVert for a three-pointer to push the lead to 24 points.
Allen (23 points, eight rebounds) was a handful in the lane, but at least starting center Daniel Gafford made a small dent with 11 points and eight rebounds; the Wizards had no one, not even the talented Delon Wright, who could keep up with the speedy Mitchell and the crafty Darius Garland (23 points). It didn’t help that Wright hardly had any effective backup.
“They put a lot of pressure on you, and when you’re trying to get the ball out of Mitchell’s hands, out of Garland’s hands, they have that roller, and you’ve got to account for that,” Unseld said. “And they’ve got [Allen and forward Evan Mobley] who can do it.”
Cleveland was shooting nearly 60 percent from the field when it pulled its starters in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers started fast — they had a 10-point lead midway through the first quarter — and didn’t let up.
It was the Wizards who were on the wrong side of a 20-point gap while walking to the locker room this time, which at least meant they were unlikely to suffer the sort of agonizing defeat they experienced in their previous two games. There was nowhere to go but up.
They fell into an early hole thanks to poor defense, especially in the lane against Garland and Allen. The Cavaliers were shooting 62.8 percent at halftime and had 38 points in the paint.
On offense, the Wizards favored jumpers over driving far too often, and even then, Unseld felt they were hesitant. At halftime, they had made 1 of 14 tries from the three-point line and were missing a creative presence like Beal.
“We turned down some open threes early in the game, where that’s the best shot you’re going to get against that defense,” Unseld said. “You create an open shot, you turn it down, now you’re trying to get it back into the teeth of the defense. It kind of plays into their hands a bit.”
Cleveland let the Wizards flail beyond the arc — they finished 6 for 28 (21.4 percent) from the three-point line.
Porzingis led the team with 18 points, and Barton had 15 off the bench.
Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:
Unseld said Kuzma is day-to-day with the left ankle sprain he suffered in the second quarter Saturday.
Beal went through shoot-around in the morning and shot before the game, but Unseld said he “didn’t have that normal pop when he moves and cuts,” adding the guard needs a little more time.
The NBA announced that the Wizards’ postponed game in Detroit last week will be rescheduled to Tuesday, March 7. Washington’s game against Milwaukee that was slated for March 6 will move to March 5 — a shift that creates four back-to-backs in March for the Wizards and has them playing four games in five days.
Last Wednesday’s matchup in Detroit was postponed when the Pistons were unable to leave Dallas in time to make it home for the game because of winter weather in Texas.