WASHINGTON — If the Cleveland Cavaliers’ dynamic return from the All-Star break indicates what is to come, the rest of the Eastern Conference should be on high alert.
Forward LeBron James scored 28 points in 25 minutes and guard Kyrie Irving had 25 as the Cleveland Cavaliers dominated the Washington Wizards for a 127-89 victory on Friday night.
Irving scored 18 points in the first half as the surging Cavaliers (34-22) led by as many as 40 points.
Spoils from the thorough victory were expressed on Coach David Blatt’s face as he answered questions postgame
“Yeah, we came out pretty good from the All-Star break,” Blatt stated.
Cleveland also entered the break impressively, going 14-2 over its final 16 games despite losing 113-98 at the Chicago Bulls in their final contest.
Forward Nene and guard John Wall each scored 18 points for the Wizards (33-22).
Cleveland took control in the first half and kept the margin in double digits for the final three quarters thanks to their perimeter shooting. Cleveland outscored Washington 42-3 from beyond the arc, handing the Wizards their largest margin of defeat this season. Guard J.R. Smith scored 15 points and guard Iman Shumpert 12.
“It shows the type of team that we have,” said James, who played in the All-Star game on Sunday along with Irving. “Guys didn’t just sit around the whole break. Guys got work in. They stayed focused. The rhythm stayed and it showed tonight.”
The victory moved Cleveland ahead of Washington and into fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Cleveland sank 14 of 33 3-pointers while Washington went 1 of 16, not making its first until 4:47 remained in the game. Ex-Wizard center Brendan Haywood’s two free throws with 1:37 left gave Cleveland its largest lead at 125-85.
“They picked us apart,” said Wall, who joined in the East’s starting lineup.
Washington started the season 22-9, but fell to 11-13 since Jan. 1
“I’ve got to find a way to get our nastiness back, our edge back,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “We didn’t defend, we didn’t take anything away.”
The teams previously split a pair of games in November, each winning by double figures on their respective home courts. Cleveland labored offensively in a 91-78 loss in Washington during a stretch of the season when its championship viability became a national topic. Subsequently, the Cavaliers acquired Smith, Shumpert and center Timofey Mozgov, not to mention cohesiveness.
“What a difference a few months make,” Blatt said. “We turned the ball over 19 times (in the previous loss). We were definitely not the together unit we are right now.”
The Wizards entered the third meeting shorthanded, playing without starting guard and second-leading scorer Bradley Beal among others. Beal (leg) missed his fourth straight game. Regardless, Washington its most points in regulation this season.
Nene left in the third quarter with a leg injury and did not return. The Brazilian big man said postgame he suffered from cramps.
Cleveland ran over and past Washington for most of the first half. The Cavaliers started 10 of 13 from the field, led 35-26 after the first quarter and opened the second with a James-fueled 14-2 run. Irving’s jumper with 2:28 remaining in the half gave Cleveland its largest lead at 63-41.
James had 15 points despite playing only 13 minutes due to picking up three fouls. He sat the final 7:14 of the half.
The Wizards trailed 65-51 at halftime after closing the second quarter with a 10-2 run. Washington pulled within 11 early in the third, but a 3-pointer by Smith and two from James ended the rally.
“Our passing and our ball movement has been amazing the last couple of games,” Irving said. “Everybody is getting open shots, making the right reads and we’re trusting each other.”
What a difference a few months make indeed.
NOTES: The Wizards played without C Kevin Seraphin (flu-like symptoms) and G Bradley Beal. Wizards coach Randy Wittman did not have a timetable for Beal’s return but said the third-year guard was pain-free in his lower right fibula. … Cavaliers F LeBron James entered Friday needing 32 points to pass Allen Iverson (24,368) for 22nd on the NBA’s career scoring list. … G Ramon Sessions was in uniform for Washington one day after being acquired from the Sacramento Kings in a trade for G Andre Miller. … The middle game of Cleveland’s three-game road trip takes place on Sunday in New York against the Knicks. … Washington plays at the Detroit Pistons on Saturday.
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