WASHINGTON — This summer, LeBron James shed light on why he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers with a rather public letter.
Eleven games into the current season, the All-Star forward, his teammates and coach have little explanation why they’re so in the dark when it comes to scoring.
The Cavaliers lost their third straight game and scored their fewest points this season, falling 91-78 to John Wall and the Washington Wizards on Friday night.
James and guard Kyrie Irving each had 22 points for the Cavaliers (5-6). The start this season is the worst for any team with James since the Cleveland Cavaliers opened the 2007-08 campaign with the same 5-6 record.
After scoring at last 118 points in three straight wins, Cleveland is averaging 88.3 during the skid. Despite the Wizards (8-3) only scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers never rallied. Going without a field goal for the final 9:15 didn’t help.
“Obviously, right now we’re struggling,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said. “We’re a little bit in the dark and we have to find our way out.”
Wall had 17 of his 28 points in the third quarter as the Wizards led comfortably most of the second half before the sellout crowd of 20,356.
“He’s our leader, man,” forward Paul Pierce said of Washington’s point guard. “He’s asked to carry a big load for this ballclub. …That is why you are going to see a lot of his jerseys in the stands.”
Help came from the bench. Washington’s reserves finished with a 40-9 scoring advantage. Center Kevin Seraphin and guard Bradley Beal each scored 12 points.
The Cavaliers rarely helped themselves on either end of the court. Washington scored 50 points in the paint and turned 19 Cleveland turnovers into 24 points.
“Irresponsible play with the ball and bad decisions,” Blatt said. “I can think off the top of my head five or six clear break situations where we don’t finish with a shot. That is just not high-level basketball.”
Cleveland lacked vigor, failed to come up with several 50-50 loose balls and seemingly played without purpose for stretches.
“That’s something I cannot explain right now,” James said about the lack of energy. “That’s something we have to have. … Losing doesn’t help; it saps the energy away. But I think for us we’re worried about the in-game too much instead of going out there playing, competing.”
The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player went 8 of 21 from the field in 39 minutes. The Cavaliers shot 36 percent from the floor.
After missing his first eight shots in Wednesday’s home loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Wall sank 12 of 20 from the field. Historically a poor perimeter shooter, the All-Star drained several open jumpers when Cleveland defenders went under screens in the third quarter.
Wall scored 10 of Washington’s final 16 points in the quarter as the Wizards led 80-65.
“That’s a concept a lot of teams give me in certain situations,” Wall said. “I didn’t shoot the ball well against Dallas and I was very disappointed. I stayed after practice Thursday, got extra shots up. … Just getting back to the basics of it. Got to take those shots if they’re there and tonight I was able to knock them down.”
The Cavaliers didn’t receive a point from any reserve until guard Dion Waiters’ jumper with 3:25 left in the third quarter. By that time — led by Seraphin and Beal – the Wizards’ subs had 29.
James’ return to Cleveland and the Wizards’ return to the Eastern Conference playoff mix recharged a rivalry that this week the two-time NBA champion recalled as “must-see TV.” The teams met three straight seasons in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, with the Cavaliers winning each time.
Seraphin played the entire second quarter, carving out space inside to lead the Wizards with 12 points in the quarter and into the halftime locker room with a 55-42 halftime lead.
NOTES: Wizards forward Nene had 10 points. …Garrett Temple has started all 11 games at guard for the Wizards this season, including the last two with G Bradley Beal back after wrist surgery. Temple is 0 of 8 from the field in his last three games. … C Brendan Haywood, now with the Cavaliers, was a Wizards starter when Washington and Cleveland met in the playoffs. He entered in the first quarter and played three minutes after sitting out four of the last five games. …The Wizards play at the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night. Washington is 2-0 in the second of back-to-back games this season. … Cleveland starts a five-game homestand Saturday against the Toronto Raptors.
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