WASHINGTON — With LeBron James taking a second-half breather, Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler put the Washington Wizards way ahead.
When James returned to the court, instead of leading a comeback, he became part of the problem in his Cleveland Cavaliers’ 108-91 loss to Washington on Wednesday night.
The reigning NBA MVP threw an errant pass. He shot an airball. He fouled DeShawn Stevenson, his old pseudo-rival from postseasons past. He missed another jumper with Stevenson in his face. He drew a technical for asking for a foul when Stevenson stopped him on a drive.
Worst of all? James hurt his left wrist by banging it off the basket while dunking.
“I hit it pretty bad on the rim,” said James, who finished with 34 points and nine assists, but also had six turnovers and shot only 3 of 7 in the fourth quarter. “It’s like you hit your funny bone, but it’s not funny at all.”
His teammates’ play on this night was no laughing matter, either. With Shaquille O’Neal and Anderson Varejao out injured, no other member of the Cavaliers scored more than 10 points. No one reached double figures in rebounds or assists.
“In general, our entire team — including LeBron — brought the ball to a standstill,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said, “which allows them to do whatever they did defensively.”
Icing his wrist in the locker room after the game, James noted a 35-15 discrepancy in foul shots that favored the hosts, saying: “They definitely got to the free-throw line way more than we did. We feel we attacked at times, and we didn’t get the whistle.”
The Cavaliers had been figuring out how to play well short-handed, winning five consecutive games heading into Wednesday. But after racing to a 17-point lead in the second quarter, they allowed the Wizards to come back, led mainly by Jamison, who was making his season debut after hurting his right shoulder in an exhibition game against Cleveland.
Jamison delivered 31 points and 10 rebounds — and some much-needed leadership — to help Washington end a six-game losing streak.
“Whether we miss a couple of shots or make a run, guys run to the huddle with their heads down, and that’s something that I knew that I could come in and change,” said Jamison, who made 12 of 22 shots. “I’ve been sitting down for what seems like forever, so I had a lot of energy. I knew it was going to be different.”
Wearing a white protective sleeve over the right shoulder that sidelined him since October, Jamison looked in midseason form from the start, scoring 13 points in the first quarter. And everyone was relieved to see him back: Arenas, Butler, other teammates, coach Flip Saunders.
Saunders: “He makes the offense look so much better.”
Brendan Haywood: “You have to make a decision: Are you going to let him shoot? Are you going to let Gilbert Arenas drive? Are you going to let guys like myself and Caron get dunks? You’ve got to make your decision, and tonight they decided to let him shoot. And that was the wrong decision.”
Butler: “He spaces the floor. Obviously, he’s a guy who’s going to knock down shots.”
Arenas began 3 of 16 — and finished 6 for 22 — but wound up with 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds as the Wizards finally got to put all three of their past All-Stars on the court at the same time.
“It was great having (Jamison) back out there,” Arenas said. “This is what we envisioned … during training camp, when everybody was healthy.”