CLEVELAND It isn’t often that the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers get the opportunity to out-play, out-class and out-everything else an opponent during the NBA’s grueling 82-game schedule.
But that’s perhaps because they don’t always have the pleasure of playing host to the Washington Wizards.
Last night, Cleveland winner of just four games before last night had its way in a 94-75 spanking of the Wizards in front of 20,652 at sold-out Gund Arena, ending their one-game winning streak.
The Cavaliers pounded the Wizards (3-10), winning by their largest margin of the season. They opened a 20-point lead in the second quarter, saw it dwindle to just two early in the third, and then almost effortlessly rebuilt it back as high as 21 points in a fourth quarter in which the Wizards played with little intensity.
Michael Jordan, who didn’t practice on Monday due to his ailing left knee, probably should have skipped this one. Jordan finished with 18 points on 9-for-24 shooting and now has made just 38 of 81 attempts in the last three games.
Jordan also compared his team to fish, the type that has sat under the sun for far too long.
“I think we stink,” Jordan said of the Wizards, who will try not to do it again tonight in Philadelphia against the 76ers. “When you don’t come in with the same focus every night, I don’t know, I just don’t think we were ready to play at their level or at anybody’s level when you come in and you don’t give the effort right out of the box.”
After acknowledging that last night he simply didn’t have it, Jordan said that it is up to his teammates to play with some type of life and carry the load.
“I haven’t shot the ball particularly well and I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. I missed layups and easy wide open shots. But that doesn’t mean that should sink our boat,” he said.
But if the Wizards are a boat that can stay afloat depending on the way the team shoots the ball, last night the Wizards tried to make it home with a torpedo imbedded in their side. Still, they fought back from a 42-22 deficit in the second quarter to trail by just two points early in the third.
But even with Cleveland’s top player, point guard Andre Miller, saddled with four fouls before intermission, the Wizards couldn’t keep it entertaining. Trailing 59-56, Cleveland went on a 22-5 run that effectively ended the Wizards’ night.
Coach Doug Collins recognized that the Wizards, who just ended an eight-game losing streak, weren’t ready to play even before they fell behind 15-5 in the first four minutes of the game.
“I knew we weren’t ready to play at the start of the game, I mean, I’ve been around it long enough. I watched our guys walk out to warm up and I told our coaches we’ll be down 20 before we blink,” Collins said.
Richard Hamilton scored 13 points but shot just three of 13, and Christian Laettner scored 11 points on 5-for-11 shooting. No one else did anything to distinguish himself, especially considering that the Wizards made a season-low 33.7 percent (30 of 89) of their shots. And it won’t get any easier tonight against Philadelphia, one of the best defensive teams in the league
Laettner even suggested that Collins might have to make more lineup adjustments, something he has been doing with regularity this already horrid season.
“Maybe Doug has to nip it out early and make wholesale changes, you know,” Laettner said. “If he sees us being lackadaisical, any one person or any five people, take us out.”
Meanwhile six Cavaliers scored in double digits, led by 18 from reserve guard Ricky Davis. Miller had 14 points and nine assists, and center Chris Mihm finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds for Cleveland (5-10), which shot 50.5 percent from the field.
The only bright spot for the Wizards was the play of rookie center Brandan Haywood, who was making his first appearance after beginning the season on the injured list with torn ligaments in his left thumb. Haywood scored just four points but he led the Wizards in rebounding (eight) and he recorded the team’s two blocked shots.
“I thought Brendan came in and did a nice job for us,” Collins said. “He didn’t score much but he grabbed eight rebounds and he was a presence in there.”
But the Wizards will need more than the presence of a recovering rookie center to overcome being outscored 20-3 in fastbreak points and digging huge early holes for themselves.
“It goes on and on and on,” Collins bemoaned. “In every phase. If you want to be a pro player, you better love to play. And we don’t play with any passion.”