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Against another Eastern power, Wizards are lacking in loss to Cavaliers

Wizards center Daniel Gafford grabs a rebound in front of Cleveland's Isaac Okoro during Friday night's Washington loss. (Phil Long/AP)
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CLEVELAND — The Washington Wizards began a challenging weekend of games with a 117-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers that served as a reminder of just how far they have to go to compete with the top of the Eastern Conference.

The Cavaliers sit fourth in the East and looked to be sharpening their sword for the playoffs against a Wizards defense that allowed them to shoot 55.2 percent from the field and gave up 17 fast-break points and 78 points in the paint. Darius Garland led an impressive trio of scorers with 24 points on 11-for-19 shooting; Donovan Mitchell (20 points) and talented young defender Evan Mobley (20 points) rounded out the bunch.

The loss was the Wizards’ second this week against an Eastern Conference contender. They fell, 112-93, to Philadelphia on Sunday.

Wizards get a closer look at rookie Johnny Davis in rout of Pistons

Cleveland’s offense cruised in large part because the Cavaliers established defensive dominance from tip-off.

The top-rated defense in the NBA forced Washington (32-38) into 17 turnovers — leading to 21 points — and was so overwhelming that Wizards players, when they could get anywhere near their preferred spots, had to play through crowds. The Cavaliers (45-28) led wire to wire.

“We just weren’t ready to play. That’s all it was,” Bradley Beal said. “We came out very slow, not a lot of energy. And that just kind of carried throughout the course of the game.”

The weekend doesn’t get any easier after this. On Saturday, Washington hosts the Sacramento Kings (42-27), who sit second in the Western Conference and present the opposite challenge: They have the top-ranked offense in the league.

Beal led four scorers in double figures with 22 points and eight rebounds, and Kristaps Porzingis had 20 points and nine rebounds. Kyle Kuzma had just seven points in 25 minutes because of foul trouble.

Corey Kispert had 12 points off the bench.

Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:

Three-point trouble

Cleveland may possess the league’s highest-rated defense and third-best paint defense, but every team has its weaknesses. Coach Wes Unseld Jr. spoke before the game about the Cavaliers’ tendency to leave open corner three-pointers, but the Wizards weren’t able to take advantage.

Washington went 7 for 21 from the three-point line and rarely had success even getting around Cleveland’s defenders and into the corners. The Cavaliers had a characteristically low shooting night from beyond the arc — they went 3 for 17 — but made up for it by forcing turnovers and scoring in transition.

“They were closing out hard,” Porzingis said. “Early on I got a couple shots, but after that it was hard closeouts. So I tried to drive a little bit more, but they closed the paint also. Honestly, whatever we tried to do was tough. They made it tough for everything. Right now? They’re just a better team than us. And they showed it.”

Davis sees early action again

Rookie Johnny Davis had four points and four rebounds in 19 minutes and again saw early action, checking in for the first time in the second quarter. Unseld said he plans to find Davis more minutes in the tail end of the regular season.

“It’s a feel,” Unseld said of deciding when to play the lottery pick going forward. “I thought once again he did really good things on the defensive end. He’s got good body position, pretty good effort. There has to be a little cleanup as far as the communication piece. That’ll come. I thought he was aggressive on offense, which I like.”

Wizards sign Xavier Cooks

Washington announced Friday it signed forward Xavier Cooks from Australia’s National Basketball League to a multiyear contract.

Cooks, who helped the NBL’s Sydney Kings to their second straight league championship Wednesday, arrived in Washington the day after to begin medical evaluations and will attend his first game as a Wizard on Saturday, though he will not be available to play.

The 6-foot-8, 183-pound forward graduated from Winthrop in 2018 — he helped lead the Eagles to the 2017 NCAA tournament — before spending five seasons playing overseas. He was named this season’s NBL MVP after averaging 14.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 36 games.

Cooks’s trademark is his rebounding, though Unseld said the 27-year-old stands out because of his intangibles.

“A lot of it is his motor,” Unseld said. “He plays with a level of physicality and force. He gets you second possessions, plays downhill. . . . So he’s doing a little bit of everything. But the fact that he can impact the game in some of those intangible ways is really what makes him intriguing.”