Wizards hope to get up for tilt with James, Cavaliers
WASHINGTON -- If the Washington Wizards continue their trend of playing up or down to the level of their opponent, finding focus for Sunday's matchup against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers should not be a problem.
In Cleveland's 130-122 win at Washington on Nov. 3, James dazzled with 57 points, the second-most he has scored in any game during his illustrious 15-year NBA career. Scoring at that pace is not sustainable, but the four-time league MVP has kept up his stellar work and his teammates have followed.
Entering the previous meeting, the Cavaliers (22-8) were floundering at 3-5, having lost four games in a row. Soon after, they found their way with a franchise-record-tying 13-game winning streak. With Saturday's 109-100 victory against Utah, Cleveland has won 17 of 18 games.
James recorded his 60th triple-double in 15 seasons and third in four games with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against the Jazz. The latest triple-double also proved historic as James passed Larry Bird for sixth place all-time in that category.
"He's great making guys better around him, making guys comfortable, guys liking to play with him," coach Tyronn Lue said. "He enjoys that. He enjoys getting guys open shots and getting guys to score points. So that's who he is."
James did not have a triple-double against Washington last month, but sank 23 of 34 field goal attempts, grabbed 11 rebounds and finished with seven assists, two blocks and three steals. His overall numbers on the season and his continued impact on Cleveland once again have him in the MVP mix.
Entering the weekend, James posted averages of 28.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 9.1 assists while shooting a career-best 41.1 percent on 3-pointers.
"Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you're able (to) accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot," James said after Saturday's practice via ESPN. "I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I've had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that."
While the Cavaliers have zoomed up the Eastern Conference standings, the Wizards (16-13) have defined erratic, though they are currently trending upward.
Washington has won two in a row including Thursday's 100-91 triumph against the Clippers, but the victory was hardly clean.
Despite Los Angeles playing without numerous key contributors and leading by as many as 18 points, Washington struggled putting the game away until a 17-5 run started with 4:52 remaining.
"It's kind of is a broken record but when we show that we can defend the right way, the minimum one shot, take care of the ball, we're pretty good," Wizards leading scorer Bradley Beal said. "That's good that we were able to close out the game the way we did tonight."
Beal had 20 points and John Wall scored 15 against the Clippers in his second game after missing nine contests with a left knee injury.
Mike Scott, a major surprise for the Wizards this season, led Washington with 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting. Signed to a one-year veteran minimum contract during the offseason, the ex-Atlanta Hawk is shooting 34 of 43 (79.1 percent) over his last six games.
"I didn't think I'd be shooting, playing like this either," Scott admitted.
Washington will need more from Scott against the Cavaliers especially with starting small forward Otto Porter (hip) questionable to play. They will also need a stronger showing overall if they have hopes of slowing down the red-hot Cavaliers.
"I know one thing: We have to play better," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "With Cleveland coming here (Sunday), we're going to have to play much better on both ends of the floor."
Cleveland center Tristan Thompson played seven minutes against Utah after missing 20 games this season with a left calf injury.
Updated December 17, 2017