LeBron James spared the Washington Wizards another thrashing. The last time James visited Capital One Arena, he left the floor with the highest-scoring night of any Wizards opponent on their home court.
James did not enter destruction mode Sunday but he still dominated the Wizards with timely buckets, laser-like passes to teammates and a workmanlike mentality under the boards. Although James did not come close to the 57 points he dropped on the Wizards during their Nov. 3 matchup, his triple-double Sunday night was just as devastating in leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 106-99 win.
James finished with 20 points, 15 assists and 12 rebounds for his third straight triple-double, tying the longest streak in his career. The sum of this masterpiece battered the Wizards (16-14), and after the loss John Wall sat in front of his locker stall wearing only a blue towel, saying nothing while patiently waiting for reporters to find him in the corner.
Wall usually needs postgame treatment and then dresses outside the view of the assembled media, so he was asked if any physical ailment had brought along this change from the routine. Wall, who played in just his third game since returning from an inflamed left knee, denied the suggestion and then offered some truth.
"Nah. Just tired of getting my [tail] beat," Wall quipped.
Wall scored 15 points and pulled down 10 rebounds while Bradley Beal played the iron-man role with game highs of 43 minutes and 27 points on 10-for-27 shooting.
Before the first meeting with the Cavaliers in November, Wall and Beal claimed on ESPN that Cleveland had dodged the Wizards in last year's playoffs. They are the ones who publicly promote the idea of Washington matching up so well against Cleveland, and on Sunday as Beal lofted rainmaking jumpers around the court and Wall sprinkled in drives and dishes (six assists), their play backed up their words.
In the second quarter when Washington worked out of a seven-point hole, both Beal and Wall scored nine points apiece. However, their hustle on the other end displayed more of their leadership than any bucket they had scored. The Wizards played with just one true big man while Markieff Morris sat on the bench saddled with fouls, so Wall had to face up James on one play and then made the extra effort to defend the rim and force a stop for the first time in nine possessions.
Wall and Beal led Washington during much of the game, but the pair slowed down in the fourth quarter, combining to make 1 of 9 shots for two points. The teams were tied at 83 heading into the final quarter, but Washington shot 31.8 percent and any notion of these two teams being even quickly dissipated.
"Shots just didn't go in," Beal said. "We had a lot of good looks, a lot of open threes, a lot of easy ones at the rim. A few turnovers hurt us, but all in all, we had good shots. They just didn't go."
Since last year, the Wizards have had designs on meeting the Cavaliers in the spring. They feel confident in their ability to match up with Cleveland, but on Sunday the Wizards lacked the frontcourt depth to truly test this claim.
Starting small forward Otto Porter Jr. missed his second game of the season while dealing with a right hip bruise. Kelly Oubre Jr. moved into the starting unit, but before the end of the first quarter both he and Morris went to the bench with two fouls apiece.
By the third quarter, Morris, with three fouls and a technical, remained in the locker room to get an X-ray after getting hit in the neck while Mike Scott played with the starters.
Though Scott played better than just providing a live body to throw at James and finished with 19 points, and Oubre played smart in not digging deeper into foul trouble, Washington could not overcome its deficit in depth. Conversely, Cleveland (23-8) produced effective minutes for 10 players even as Dwyane Wade rested, Isaiah Thomas remained out and Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert filled out the inactive list.
"They have a lot of guys. They sat out a couple of players and they still have a lot of guys," Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. "That's what makes them one of the best teams in basketball.
". . . Brad probably played a few extra minutes too many," Brooks continued. "We needed some extra minutes out of guys. Hopefully Otto will be back soon."
Early in the fourth quarter, Beal took over the defensive assignment on James and forced him into a miss on a long two. Beal needed a break at the 8:24 mark, and from that point James turned into a lethal facilitator in setting up teammates during an 8-0 Cavaliers run. Though Beal quickly returned to the floor, the Wizards did not return to form and the Cavaliers opened their biggest lead of the game.
"The effort was there," Scott said. "We just have to outlast them, win, get rebounds, make plays — simple plays. Especially against a great team like that, you have to be sharp."
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