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Wizards can't keep up with Cavaliers

Al Thornton (14) drives to the basket to score two of his team-high 23 points.
Al Thornton (14) drives to the basket to score two of his team-high 23 points. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 7, 2010; 12:09 AM

Gilbert Arenas finally had his homecoming, as he made his first regular season appearance at Verizon Center on Saturday with his image covering the game programs and fans welcoming him with a rousing ovation.

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But Antawn Jamison, the other half of the expected reunion, didn't play with a sore left knee keeping him in street clothes in his return to the building that he called home for 61/2 seasons.

For three quarters, though, Arenas and the absent Jamison were witnesses to a thrilling display from the one of the pieces that the Washington Wizards received in their three-team deal at last season's trade deadline that sent Jamison to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Al Thornton fought relentlessly for rebounds, attacked the rim for a layups and dunks and was so smooth in transition that his baskets were followed on the loudspeakers with music from soul singer Al Green. But after Thornton scored 23 points, Coach Flip Saunders decided to ride with Arenas and not Thornton for the entire fourth quarter, leaving the Wizards without one of their most effective players when it counted most. And Thornton had to serve as a spectator as the Wizards lost, 107-102, before an announced crowd of 14,442.

"I said to Al, 'I made a mistake,' " Saunders said, adding that he felt that the three-guard set with Arenas, Kirk Hinrich and No. 1 overall pick John Wall had proved to be effective in stretches. "In hindsight, you wish you would've gotten him back in the game - I don't know who for. You just wish you could get him back in the game."

Thornton may have helped, but the Wizards still had opportunities to win the game, as they led 95-93 with 3 minutes 16 seconds left after Hinrich (21 points) took a pass from Arenas in the right corner and buried a three-pointer. But the Cavaliers, determined to prove that they had more than just LeBron James the past few years, scored the next 10 points, with Mo Williams (28 points) sending fans toward the exits when he knocked down a three-pointer with 49.9 seconds remaining.

The Wizards (1-4), meanwhile went nearly three minutes without another field goal, until Andray Blatche made a meaningless, 17-foot turnaround jumper with 11.4 seconds remaining.

"Out of these five games, we had it in the end. It's just teams outsmarting us and outplaying us and finishing games stronger and we're not doing that," Wall said after getting the second double-double of his career with 13 points with 10 assists along with six turnovers.

Blatche had 16 points and a season-high 15 rebounds. JaVale McGee had 11 points and 10 rebounds, but he missed a critical rebound to Cleveland's Anderson Varejao that led to an Anthony Parker three-pointer and forced Saunders to go with Hilton Armstrong down the stretch.

Daniel Gibson came off the bench to add 19 for the Cavaliers (3-3).

"We weren't quite as sharp as we needed to be. We need to get better in every aspect," Hinrich said.

Thornton had 12 points in the third period, helping the Wizards come back from a 10-point deficit. He scored with baseline jumpers and driving layups, giving the Wizards a 66-64 lead with a putback dunk. Later in the period, Williams tried to drive inside for a floater but McGee caught the ball, then threw it ahead to Thornton, who made a layup that gave the Wizards a 74-69 lead.

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