Hooley: Cavs remain in Hurry Up and Wait mode

If rest is best, then the Cleveland Cavaliers should be in great shape to defend their Eastern Conference championship and get back to the NBA Finals.

This was the day the Cavs were supposed to start their pursuit of a third straight trip to the championship round. Instead, the wait continues, for the eighth of what will be 10 days off before they pursuit of a trip to the Finals on Wednesday.

That's because John Wall hit a late three-pointer on Friday night to carry the Washington Wizards back from the brink of defeat in Game 6 against the Boston Celtics and force a Game 7 in Boston tonight.

I worried after the Cavs dispatched Indiana in four games that the rest might bring rust to the Cavaliers' performance, but their subsequent sweep of Toronto alleviated that concern and has me hopeful this extended time off will result in more dominance against whoever survives the other Eastern Conference semifinal.

It sounds silly to say I'd rather see the Cavs play Boston, the top seed, than Washington, the fourth seed. After all, the Celtics would have the home court against the Cavs, while Cleveland would host Game 1 on Wednesday if the Wizards win in Boston in Game 7.

But that's still how I feel.

I'd rather play on the road in Boston in Games 1 and 2, because I think it would help re-focus the Cavs. I’m also convinced Cleveland would win at least one game, and maybe both games, against an opponent that's bound to be tired from going the distance against Washington.

The Wizards scare me because their backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal is a defensive nightmare for the Cavaliers. I know Washington doesn't have much beyond that, but Boston lives and dies with 5-9 dynamo Isaiah Thomas, and I think the Cavs can throw so many defenders at him that he won't be able to cope over the duration of the series.

There's also the possibility that Thomas will have reached “E” on his emotional gas tank by the time the Eastern Conference finals begin.

He's been playing great throughout the post-season since the tragic, unexpected death of his younger sister in a car accident in the midst of the first-round.

I don't see how Thomas can hold up under the defensive concentration the Cavs will place on him, and I don't think Boston has nearly enough other scoring around him to win when Cleveland takes Thomas away.

The Cavs won't defend their championship without playing great defense, whether it's against the Wizards or Celtics in the East final, or against the Spurs or Warriors in the championship.

Defense was a big problem for Cleveland during the regular season. It played like a team coasting on its championship laurels, and every time the issue came up, the Cavs dismissed it with the promise to address the issue once the post-season arrived.

True to their word, it looks like they have flipped that switch.

Look at the numbers comparing the Cavs’ defense in the regular season vs. the playoffs:

                                Defensive Rank    Pts/100 poss.

Regular season     22                           108

Playoffs                  3                              105.9

No team in the last 30 years won an NBA title with a defensive efficiency ranking as low as the Cavs' mark during the regular season.

Their playoff number trails only Golden State and Milwaukee, so Cleveland seems to have flipped the switch it promised to flip.

But has that really happened or was that a product of playing the Pacers and the Raptors, with Toronto having no Kyle Lowry in Games 3 and 4?

We'll get a more definitive answer in the Eastern Conference finals, and beyond that if the Cavs advance.

But head coach Tyronn Lue has been hinting all season that his team has practiced, but saved, some defensive concepts for just this point of the season.

Now it's time to unleash whatever defensive fury the Cavaliers have in hiding.

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