LeBron James pours in 57 as Cavaliers quiet Wizards, 130-122
LeBron James pours in 57 as Cavaliers quiet Wizards, 130-122:-LeBron James arrived in Washington on Friday night with a new pair of shoes. The high-top charcoal Nikes declared a statement across the straps, stitched in royalty colors of blue and gold: “Long Live The King.”
The shoes weren’t subtle, and neither was James’s performance against the Washington Wizards in a 130-122 Cleveland victory at Capital One Arena. He scored and stared at the bench. He flipped in a ridiculous reverse layup that looked straight out of a playground and celebrated by playing the air drums. He let three, sometimes four defenders come to him and still scored.
He ruled the Wizards’ court.
He didn’t wear the fancy shoes, just displayed them in front of his locker, and didn’t need them to send the Wizards a message. His season-high 57 points — the second-highest single-game total of his storied career — spoke loudly. And the Wizards had no answer.
“We obviously witnessed one of the best players to ever play the game,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “He still has it, if you guys didn’t know that. We knew that.”
Making an already dreary night worse: Wizards four-time all-star John Wall left the arena with his left arm in a sling. Late in the third quarter, Wall ran into a hard screen set by Channing Frye, and the contact sent him to the floor where he stayed for an uncomfortable amount of time in visible pain.
The Wizards said Wall has a left shoulder sprain, and the description by Wall after the game should concern the team.
“It’s on fire right now,” Wall said, explaining the intensity of his pain.
Although Cleveland had lost five of its previous six games, the reigning Eastern Conference champions controlled the game as the Wizards receded to their lowest defensive depths of the season.
The Cavaliers shot 56.1 percent and made 12 three-pointers. They took a 74-66 lead into intermission and never trailed in the second half.
Before holding Cleveland to 26 points in the final quarter, Washington (4-4) had surrendered 30 or more through six straight quarters. The putrid defense dated back to Wednesday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns. After that loss, locker room leaders suggested there’s no opponent this team can take lightly.
“We’re not that good of a team,” Wall had said earlier.
But self-reflection only lasts so long for the Wizards. They are built on bluster, a team that thrives on trash talk, and less than 24 hours after offering an honest assessment about the state of the Wizards, Wall, speaking with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, implied that the Cavaliers dodged the Wizards in last season’s playoffs.
“They understand what we can bring to the table,” Wall said, his running mate Bradley Beal seated beside him for the interview.
“If you look at last year, people might say that they did or didn’t, but I think they didn’t want the No. 1 seed for a reason because we would’ve played them in the second round.”
Nichols followed up, somewhat incredulous, repeating Wall’s statement as a question. Beal chuckled to himself, and Wall doubled down.
“To be honest, I think so,” Wall responded. “I think they wanted to see us in the Eastern Conference finals and we fell one game short of that. We just give them the best matchup problems out of any team in the East.”
Wall shared this observation hours before tip-off on the home floor. But during the game, when baskets counted and words didn’t, the Wizards did not look like the Cavs’ equal. As far as matching up, Washington, like most NBA teams, has no one to guard James.
Not Otto Porter Jr. — the natural small forward gives up more than 50 pounds to James.
Not Beal — in the opening quarter, James sniffed out this matchup by backing him down into the paint and scoring a breezy layup.
Not Wall — although he tried to defend James at points in the fourth quarter, bad shoulder and all, the weight and height difference proved no match.
And truly, no one in a red Washington uniform, as James drew continuation fouls, performed surgically precise fast breaks and made 23 shots on 34 attempts.
“It’s just one of those nights,” said Wall. “If someone like that is that hot and making every tough shot, there’s nothing you can do with it. I think we did a pretty good job on everybody else. Derrick [Rose] had a great first half but to shoot 23 of 34, very rarely you win a game like that.”
Although Kelly Oubre Jr. scored a career-high 21 points with five three-pointers and Beal sizzled again for 36 points on 12 of 19 shots from the floor after scoring 40 on Wednesday night, the team defense wasted these strong offensive nights.
Ahead of every game, the Wizards list the opponent’s starters and general strategies on the white dry-erase board inside the locker room. One very important note was scribbled on the board: “Start and finish the game with defense.”
Washington needed the reminder. This marked the third time in the past four games an opponent had scored at least 120 points on the Wizards — all three coming in losses.
Even on Friday night, when the Wizards should’ve had all the motivation to back up their talk and show the struggling Cavs a thing or two, their reckless ways continued.
In transition, the Wizards played slow. When Wall scored his only field goal of the first quarter, falling to the floor as his layup ripped the net, the arena announcer barely had enough time to scream his name before James dunked on the other end.
Through the opening quarter, Cleveland scored 20 points in the paint and piled on seven layups or dunks.
James wasn’t the only Cavalier the Wizards were reluctant to guard. Though it seems Rose’s 2011 MVP campaign happened in another lifetime, he factored heavily into the Cavs’ attack, finishing with 20 points and combining with James on 12-of-14 shooting through the first quarter, when Cleveland shot 77 percent as a team and put up 42 points.
“We were upset about that,” Beal said. “It kind of came down to the first team that plays defense was going to win the game, ultimately. We were in the high-30s, so it was a very high-scoring game. We can’t give up 40 in a quarter. That’s two games in a row now that we’ve done that. That’s unacceptable for sure.”
Wall finished with 13 points (4 of 13) and 15 assists, and Markieff Morris, who made his season debut, hit his first shot but misses next five to close the game with two points.