The Wizards opened Game 5 without the uncertainty of the "Gilbert" factor, and their half-court offense flowed freely and easily. When Washington spaces the floor and gets the ball moving, they create shots for everybody. This movement not only helps get everyone involved offensively, it also keeps all of the Cavaliers occupied defensively.
When the Wizards have struggled offensively in this series, they have allowed the Cavaliers to stand around, clog the lane and jam up all of their driving and passing lanes. Washington's first two baskets in Game 5, jump shots from DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler, didn't come on set plays, but rather because of sound offensive movement of players and the basketball.
Wizards players have stated many times that they are at their best when the offense is more democratic -- meaning everyone gets touches and everyone gets rewarded with open shots. This balance not only allows stars like Butler easier opportunities to score, but it also creates more scoring opportunities for limited offensive players like Antonio Daniels, as well as Roger Mason and Darius Songaila off the bench.
The Wizards are in a groove in their half-court offense, and Cleveland simply cannot guard this action straight up -- especially when they play Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao together. Disrupting Washington's flow will be a primary focus for Cleveland in Game 6.
Earlier in the series, the Cavs double-teamed Butler and got the Wizards out of their rhythm. As Butler struggled, the Cavs went away from doubling him. Lately they have been playing mostly straight-up, man-to-man defense, and Butler has figured out that he must catch and quickly make a play, rather than hold the ball and allow the Cavs to set and wait for him. Watch for the Cavaliers to come back at Butler with traps and doubles: They can't just chase the Wizards around in their half-court set.
This strategy will put a premium on Antawn Jamison to then attack quickly on the catch when the ball is rotated out of the double-team. Because he knows he will get these types of opportunities in Game 6 with the Cavaliers rotating, look for him to have a big offensive impact for Washington.
The Wizards must also continue to use their quickness on the offensive glass, as they hurt Cleveland in Game 5 with some easy putbacks in key situations. They will keep crashing the boards in Game 6 from every position.
The story for the Cavs in Game 5 was their inability to execute and score in the last 90 seconds when they had the ball and a five-point lead. Their Game 4 formula of LeBron James drawing everyone and kicking to the open shooters failed them this time. Even though James got into the paint for a very makeable game winner, his degree of difficulty is getting harder and harder.
Cleveland has been content to just put the ball in LeBron's hands at the top of the floor and let him create -- not a bad option, really.
However, the Wizards are responding by immediately going to a 1-2-2 defensive set that really forces LeBron to go 1-on-5 and take on the whole team. If he makes that last shot in Game 5, we're not even having this discussion.
Nonetheless, the Cavs must get back to some of the earlier action that got James the ball on the move in their Game 1 win. As we have stated before, LeBron is at his best when he can catch as he is moving to the middle and roar into the lane.
In the last few minutes of what will be another close game, expect the
Cavs to try to make things easier on LeBron with some action that allows him some freedom to create on a cut or flash, rather than just squaring off from the top against the entire Wizards defense.
One option is to run him off of a series of baseline screens to allow him to catch and then attack the middle. This look also opens up Ilgauskas for an easy step to the rim in the likelihood that everyone goes with James.
Also look for the high ball screen away from James, who will then cut to the free-throw line area off of a diagonal downscreen. The Cavs got this action in their Game 1 win, and it allows LeBron to take on only two or three defenders, rather than all five.
These teams know each other so well, and either team could have already won this series with better execution down the stretch in the close games. Look for Game 6 to be nothing short of another nail-biter with the winner being determined by the last shot.
PREDICTION: Wizards win Game 6
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.