The Wizards defended, contested, rebounded, ran and made shots in Game 3 -- nothing like a team many left for dead after being blown out in Game 2. Washington was the aggressor in every phase of the game at both ends of the floor -- from rebounding to loose balls to defensive rotations. They also pushed the pace and ran at every opportunity.
Cleveland looked lethargic and sloppy, which could have been the result of a hangover from the euphoria of Game 2. Or, of more concern, it could be just one more piece of mounting evidence that this group of players has trouble winning on the road -- as they did toward the end of the regular season.
In either case, the Cavs need to play Game 4 with a renewed sense of urgency. If Washington ties this series at 2-2, you won't be able to convince the Wizards that they won't win the series. In the Cavaliers' film study, they will see much cause for concern that this could happen.
The Wizards made the offensive spacing adjustments that we anticipated in our earlier report -- flattening out the floor by sliding their wings farther down toward the baseline and the corners. This dragged Cleveland defenders farther toward the basket and away from the foul line area. They also moved their high ball screen action up above the top of the key -- stepping higher up the floor toward half court.
By pulling that screen defender (in most cases Zydrunas Ilgauskas) up to half court, and pushing the help defenders down toward the baseline, the Wizards effectively blew open the middle of the court.
This made their cutting, passing and ball movement action much easier to execute and opened up huge passing, cutting and driving lanes for the Wizards. This improved spacing made the bigger, slower Cleveland 4s and 5s defend more of the floor and cover more ground to help.
This also paved the way for Caron Butler to finally get his offensive game on track; he attacked Wally Szczerbiak, who was left exposed without his big bodyguards behind him. The Wizards can spread the court and attack with Antawn Jamison's quickness as well, and this also allows Brendan Haywood more room to flash and roll to the basket.
The Wizards are going to exploit this advantage at these positions, and the Cavaliers are going to have to find some answers for this -- either with changes in personnel by going with a smaller lineup, or by adjusting their schemes to play more containment and less pressure. Look for LeBron James to guard Butler on more possessions, and look for Butler to go right at him if the Wizards keep the floor spaced efficiently.
Coach Eddie Jordan may have also solved the Gilbert Arenas "chemistry" issue by starting him in Game 3. Not only did Arenas get the Wizards rolling with a number of nice assists, this also allowed the Wizards more control of what they get from him.
If he starts and plays eight to 10 minutes, they can come off the bench with whatever they need more: Antonio Daniels for more defense or Roger Mason for more offense. The Wizards can manipulate the chemistry in any direction, instead of bringing Arenas off the bench and hoping for the best or wondering how he will affect the offensive flow.
This may solve what was potentially the biggest lingering problem for Washington, so look for Arenas to start Game 4 if he is healthy.
Cleveland's juggernaut offensive machine from Game 2 became a mistake-prone, plodding mess in Game 3. Some of this was created by the Wizards' increased aggressiveness, but the Cavs also had many fumbles, mishandles and head-scratching passes that poured gasoline on the fire.
The Cavs completely abandoned their high-low post game -- ignoring Ben Wallace altogether -- who was so effective with his passing and screening in Game 2. Wallace just stood all alone at the foul line in Game 3 while Cleveland forced the ball into Ilgauskas from the wing. This allowed the Wizards -- especially Jamison -- to rotate quickly for blocks and steals.
In Game 4, look for Cleveland to get back to their high-low action right from the start. Also look for Joe Smith to play more of a role in the high post, because his offensive ability to score from 12-18 feet will keep Jamison home and give Z more room to work.
Cleveland also seemed strangely intent on posting Szczerbiak on Arenas. Arenas was quite happy to play stationary post defense against a player who scores less than nine points per game -- especially since Arenas can barely run. Expect the Cavs to run Arenas all over the floor with screens and cutting action for the man he guards.
Most concerning for Cleveland was James' lack of offensive aggressiveness; he seemed content to stay on the perimeter and shoot jump shots. The only two times he drove the middle in the first half, he blew to the rim for a layup and then got a beastly "and one" in which he took Darius Songaila's best shot and barely flinched.
James likes to get his teammates going early, then step us his aggressiveness when needed. But they feed off his aggressiveness -- they shoot better, defend better and play with more confidence. But he failed to recognize this team's offensive desperation in Game 3, and he will be needed much earlier in Game 4 and must be willing to carry the load. They can't carry him. Look for James to ferociously attack the basket at every opportunity in Game 4.
Throw out Games 2 and 3 -- this will be more like Game 1. It will be close and hard-fought. Washington has its confidence back, its bench contributing and its roles defined. But Cleveland has the one player in this game who can carry a team on his back and produce one of those timeless performances for the ages.
PREDICTION: Cavaliers win Game 4
Mike Moreau is the director of basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves as an NBA analyst for Hoopsworld.