Cavaliers have their way with Wizards in a big way in a 39-point rout

CLEVELAND — The benches told the story in the third quarter Wednesday night. There were the Washington Wizards dressed in their whites, staring at the action without speaking. On the other side of the court, the Cleveland Cavaliers resembled a picture of joy — the players in wine and gold were all up on their feet, cheering every time a teammate hit a three-pointer and flexing whenever they grabbed yet another offensive rebound.

When the Cavaliers delivered consecutive no-look assists to push the lead to 20, it was bedlam.

Cleveland had a downright hoot picking apart the Wizards in a 140-101 win at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, and it was easy to see why. Players up and down the roster bullied Washington on the boards and then finished the job from the three-point line, a one-two punch that led to the Wizards’ second-biggest margin of defeat in this rebuilding season — behind only a 45-point loss to Philadelphia last month.

The Cavaliers had 20 three-pointers and won the battle on the boards 62-36, the result of what players and Coach Wes Unseld Jr. described as a lack of effort and physicality.

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“It’s one thing to do it in practice; [it’s another thing] to feel that in real time,” Unseld said of his team’s poor rebounding. “It’s just something that’s got to be a priority for us because it keeps cropping up.”

The Cavaliers (19-15) slowly and steadily laid the groundwork for a drubbing in the first half by taking care of the details. Yes, Washington’s defense let them shoot all too efficiently from the three-point line from tip-off, but Cleveland also efficiently converted offensive rebounds and turnovers into easy points.

Comfort on offense plus control of those elements was like lighter fluid, and an 8-0 run to end the first half — fueled by a pair of three-pointers from Donovan Mitchell — was all the spark the Cavaliers needed.

Max Strus led the onslaught from beyond the arc and ended with a team-high 24 points on 9-for-13 shooting, including 6-for-8 from the three-point line. Mitchell had 22 points, including four three-pointers, and Jarrett Allen rounded out the offense from under the basket. The 6-foot-9 center had 17 points, 19 rebounds and a team-high seven assists.

The Wizards (6-27) looked feeble on offense in comparison despite 12 three-pointers. Kyle Kuzma led a slightly stickier offense than usual with 16 points. Center Daniel Gafford was the only other starter in double figures, with 12. Deni Avdija led the team on the boards on his 23rd birthday. All he needed was six rebounds.

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“It’s just the approach,” Gafford said of the Wizards’ rebounding. “Really just the lack of effort in that area at the end of the day. I take big responsibility on that because of course I want to control the boards, but it’s just taking that extra step, putting your body on the line. . . . They do it to us. Any team that we’ve played, they’re throwing multiple guys, multiple people trying to keep guys off the glass.”

Perhaps Washington can take solace in the fact that its chance at revenge arrives quickly — the Wizards visit the Cavaliers again Friday.

Here’s what else to know about Wednesday’s loss:

Allen wasn’t the only force working the boards for the Cavaliers. Cleveland’s bench was just as productive on offense, especially at the start of the second quarter, when it outscored the Wizards 13-7 in the first four minutes.

Tristan Thompson had nine of the bench’s 31 rebounds.

The Cavaliers made 6 of 9 three-point attempts in the first quarter, and Strus had 21 points by halftime.

Two-way guard Jared Butler started his 2024 with some happy news: After leading the Capital City Go-Go to a pair of impressive wins, he was named the G League player of the week for games played between Dec. 27 and Jan. 1.

The former Baylor shooting guard averaged 28 points, 12.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds on 55.3 percent shooting in wins against the Raptors 905 and the Motor City Cruise.

“It means a lot,” the ever-cheerful Butler said ahead of Wednesday’s Wizards game, in which he scored five points in nine minutes. “It’s good to know that my hard work and preparation pays off, and just glad to know that my teammates helped me out a lot, too.”

It was a mutually beneficial situation. The Go-Go shot 56.8 percent from the field in a 143-109 win over the Raptors 905 as Butler had 13 assists, which is tied for the fourth most by a player in a game. The guard followed his strong performance with 12 assists Dec. 30 against the Motor City Cruise and scored 32 points — the second-highest-scoring game of his career — including a step-back, game-winning three-pointer.

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