A short-handed Washington Wizards team escaped the D.C. area hours ahead of Hurricane Sandy to play their season opener in Cleveland against the Cavaliers, but the team didn't really show up until the fourth quarter. The Wizards fell behind by 16 points in the third quarter, trailed by 12 after three and finally lost by 10, 94-84.
In between the 12-point deficit and the 10-point loss the Wizards finally showed some life and stormed back to take a two point lead after scoring the first 14 points of the fourth quarter. However, the Wizards couldn't hold the lead and when they went cold, they went very cold, missing 14 of their last 15 shots from the field and allowing a shaken Cavs team to take control of the game once more. The Wizards took one big shot at winning tonight, but playing without their best three players -- John Wall, Nene and Kevin Seraphin -- one shot is all they had in them and it wasn't enough.
The Wizards scored the first five points of the game on a Trevor Ariza 3-pointer and a layup by center Emeka Okafor, but the Cavs came back immediately and soon seized the lead a few minutes into the first quarter. They never looked back until their early fourth quarter collapse. Most of the Cavaliers team looked mediocre or worse, but point guard Kyrie Irving, center Anderson Varejao and rookie shooting guard Dion Waiters carried their team to victory tonight.
Varejao nearly scored a triple double, racking up 23 rebounds [career-high], 9 points and 9 assists. Kyrie Irving, last season's NBA Rookie of the Year, was spectacular, scoring 29 points on 20 shots and grabbing six rebounds. Dion Waiters added 17 points and while he didn't shoot the lights out, he was aggressive and looked for his shot and the rim.
Unlike Waiters, Wizards rookie guard Bradley Beal, who got the start, looked hesitant tonight. He didn't drive to the basket and he hit only two of his eight shots. Both of those made shots were 3-pointers and Beal finished with 8 points in 22 minutes. He sat for long stretches of the game and never looked comfortable in his first NBA game. Beal's -16 court ratio was a pretty good indication of his contribution tonight.
Beal was hardly the only problem the Wizards had in their season opener. The leading scorer was Jordan Crawford who came off the bench and needed 13 shots [0-6 on 3-pointers] to score 11 points. Center Emeka Okafor scored 10 points on 10 shots and grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked four shots in 25 minutes. However, he was completely dominated by Varejao and was actually outplayed by his backup, Earl Barron, who was claimed off waivers and barely made the team.
Barron led Washington's comeback in the fourth quarter and stayed in the game, finishing with 8 points and 8 rebounds in 16 minutes. Just about the only other Wiz player who had anything that could be described as a decent game was forward Martell Webster, who scored 9 points on 4 of 6 shooting in 23 minutes. Otherwise, the Wizards were pretty awful and A.J. Price, starting in place of Wall, didn't help by missing 11 of his 13 shots, including two big three-pointer bricks that helped crush any chance of a Wiz come back in the final minutes. Price did notch 6 dimes against only one turnovers, but his good passing was more than overcome by his abysmal shooting. Backup Jannero Pargo was just as bad, missing 4 of 6 shots and playing matador defense againt anyone lucky enough to be facing him.
The Wizards continue to be a horrible shooting team, making only 35.6 percent of their shots tonight, including 25 percent on three-pointers. Just as ugly, the Wizards hit only 60 percent of their free throws. At one point in the game it seemed Anderson Varejao might out-rebound the entire Wizards team, but while that did not happen, the Wiz were still dominated on the boards to the tune of 54-39.
About the only good thing one can say about Washington's first game of the season was the ball-handling and distribution. The Wizards had 26 assists on 32 made baskets and while part of that might be because there is no one on the team who can create his own shot without John Wall on the floor, the Wiz definitely moved the ball around crisply and made the extra pass when necessary. [The problem was that no one could hit a shot after the extra pass was made.] In addition, the Wiz committed only 12 turnovers to Cleveland's 20. A 26-12 assists-to-turnover ratio is pretty damn good, but it demonstrates how awful the Wiz were in every other area that they still lost by 10 points to a pretty mediocre Cavs team.
Washington [0-1] plays next on November 3 when they host the Boston Celtics in D.C.