The Cleveland Cavaliers have one of the best point guards in the world. Yet, it is Kyrie Irving's counterparts who are causing the team problems.
After being badly burned by one All-Star point man, Irving and the Cavaliers must deal with another one as they visit John Wall and the Washington Wizards on Sunday.
In Cleveland's four losses this month, including two this week, the opposing point guard has had at least 22 points every time. The first three were far from superstars – Charlotte's Jeremy Lin, Boston's Isaiah Thomas and Detroit's Reggie Jackson. On Friday, though, it was Eastern Conference All-Star starter Kyle Lowry who dealt the Cavaliers a crushing blow, scoring 43 points and hitting the winning jumper with 3.8 seconds left as Toronto won 97-95.
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The assignment isn't any easier against Wall, second to Russell Westbrook among guards with 33 double-doubles.
“We just gotta come ready to play, understand that John Wall is gonna be going 100 miles per hour,” Cavs guard J.R. Smith said. “He's gonna be a lot like Kyle. We just gotta figure out a way as a team to stop him.”
Cleveland (41-16) also must recover from a game in which it never trailed for the first 45 minutes but ended up seeing its lead atop the East dip to two games over the Raptors, who in turn won the season series tiebreaker.
“Obviously, it was a 1-2 matchup and we wanted to come out on top, but they beat us,” said Irving, who had 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting with one assist. “… Now we just gotta get ready for Sunday going against a Wizards team that's trying to get into the playoffs.”
Washington (27-30) would settle for being Cleveland's first-round opponent considering its 10th-place standing in the East. The Wizards also want to show they can beat the league's elite because they're 0-5 this month against teams with winning records.
“On Sunday, we're gonna come out with a lot of intensity because you don't wanna get embarrassed in front of your home crowd and lose by 20 or 30,” Wall said of the nationally televised game.
His 23 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds lifted Washington to a 103-94 win over league-worst Philadelphia on Friday.
In their four victories since the All-Star break, the Wizards have allowed an average of 89.5 points on 40.1 percent shooting. They've given up 110.7 points per game in their 30 losses this season, worst among East teams.
''We just have to defend. Offense is not our problem,” Wall said.
He had no answer defensively for Irving in the last meeting as the Cavaliers won 121-115 in Washington on Jan. 6. Irving scored 32, hitting a season-best 14 of 22 from the field. Wall had 20 points and 12 assists but committed seven turnovers.
Wall scored 35 in a 97-85 win in Cleveland on Dec. 1, but an injured Irving didn't play that game – the Cavs' only blemish during their 15-1 start at home.
“We were the only team earlier in the season to go beat Cleveland at home,” Wall said. “… We've shown glimpses, but you gotta be able to do it not matter who's on the court and who you're playing.”
LeBron James scored 34 in D.C. last month but hasn't topped 25 in five straight games and has a poor 19-to-14 assist-to-turnover ratio in the last three. He didn't hit the rim with a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer Friday.
''People get so caught up in the physical side of the game, we lack mental (strength) right now and we've got to continue to get better with it,'' James said after committing six turnovers.