The Cleveland Cavaliers no longer have to worry about being the worst team in basketball or for that matter the worst team in the Eastern Conference. Since it appears that the Phoenix Suns (12 straight losses) and New York Knicks (14 straight losses) have packed it in for the year even exerting a minimal effort will keep them out of the league and conference basement. Not that Cleveland is doing too much better than the aforementioned flatliners–the Cavs have lost eight of their last ten games and lead the moribund Knicks by just one half game. Considering that New York has lost 14 straight and the Cavs are just barely ahead of them in the standings it’s obvious that Cleveland isn’t much of a team either.
While we’re at it, the Washington Wizards are also a pretty tough team to figure. it wasn’t long ago that the Wizards looked like a team on the move. After years of miserable play Washington started to put it together in 2013 when the team went from 29-53 in 2012-2013 to 44-38 the following season. They even returned to the playoffs, losing in the Eastern Conference semifinals. In 2014-2015, the Wizards improved marginally to 46-36 and made the playoffs again, losing once again in the conference semifinals. After a regression to .500 in 2015-2016, Washington improved to 49-33 in 2016-2017 but once again in the playoffs (you guessed it) lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
At the time, the Wizards looked to be a team that could be a conference contender at any point. That didn’t happen. They regressed to 43-39 last season and this year enter Friday’s game against the Cavaliers at 22-32 which puts them in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. They’re 4 games out of the final playoff spot in the East and find themselves at a fork in the road. At this point, they’re significantly better than the teams below them in the East (they lead 12th place Atlanta by 4 games) but it’s not apparent that they’re good enough to make a playoff push. It’s also not apparent that management cares since they’re clearing payroll off the books at the trade deadline. They sent Otto Porter, Jr. to Chicago for a couple of players with expiring contracts. More recently, Markieff Morris was sent to New Orleans. These two moves saved the Wizards $18.3 million toward the luxury tax and Washington is now below the tax threshold by $232,000.
The team might have seen the recent re-injury to John Wall as the ‘writing on the wall’ for this season. Please excuse the pun. Guard John Wall was already out for the season after having surgery to repair bone spurs in his left heel in December. He was expected to be ready for the start of training camp but that was before he slipped and fell at home earlier this week rupturing his Achilles Tendon. At the end of January, team owner Ted Leonsis insisted that the team was going to make a playoff run and that the idea of ‘tanking games’ was ‘offensive’. Given Washington’s latest personnel moves and the Wall mishap he may have moderated his position on that.
Cleveland is a team that nobody wants to touch at the betting window. Yet despite a 5-22 SU record away from home they’re 13-13 ATS. They’ve gone 2-3 in their last 5 games which is a strong run by their standards and more importantly they’ve gone 4-1 ATS in that stretch. Washington, meanwhile, has lost five of six both SU and to the number. The question becomes ‘is Washington good enough to be laying -10.5 to anyone at this point’? Doubtful. The Wizards’ ATS log this season suggests that they have trouble focusing on opponents that provide no special level of motivation. They’re 11-15 ATS as a favorite and 9-15 ATS against opponents with losing records. Right now, Cleveland is bringing more of an effort and while that might not get them a SU victory they should be able to remain competitive throughout.