WASHINGTON – For the first time all season, the Washington Wizards used a lineup resembling the one they envisioned when training camp opened last fall.
The result: The team leading the league in losses beat the team leading the league in wins.
In the closest thing they’ll have to a playoff game this year, ex-Arizona Wildcat Gilbert Arenas and the Wizards fed off a sellout crowd Thursday night and ended the franchise-record 13-game winning streak of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Washington recovered after blowing a 14-point second-half lead and held on for a 109-101 victory.
“It was a very confidence-inspiring win for us,” Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said. “We hope that this’ll give people a bit of a preview of what we will be next year.
“It’s what we thought we would be this year.”
Arenas, playing his second game of the season in his latest attempt to return from knee surgery, had 11 points on 3-for-11 shooting with 10 assists and six rebounds in 33 minutes.
Brendan Haywood, also playing his second game of the season and making his first start after recovering from a major wrist injury, added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Wizards also received the usual steady contributions from Caron Butler (25 points) and Antawn Jamison (19) and a surprising 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting from Darius Songaila as they snapped a three-game losing streak.
MVP candidate James scored 22 of his 31 points in the second half and finished with six assists and nine rebounds for the Cavaliers, but – how’s this for a statistical oddity – he was responsible for all five of his team’s turnovers until Daniel Gibson traveled in the final minute of the third quarter. James finished with six turnovers – one fewer than the Wizards – and had a 3-pointer stuffed in his face by Butler in the final half-minute.
“It’s still a meaningless win toward the record,” said Arenas, who said he was winded but otherwise fine in his first game since his season debut on Saturday. “But for us, it’s a real win because they’re trying to be the best. He’s trying to win an MVP award, so they had everything to lose and we had everything to gain.”
Last year at this time, the Wizards and Cavaliers were headed toward a first-round playoff series that would include subplots aplenty, including a back-and-forth between James and Washington guard DeShawn Stevenson that eventually drew rappers Jay-Z and Soulja Boy into the fray. Cleveland won the series in six games, with Arenas missing the last two after more trouble with his knee.
Now the Cavaliers are the best team in the East; the Wizards are the worst. Washington did manage to beat Cleveland in January when James was called for traveling – he claimed it was a legal “crab dribble” – with 2.3 seconds remaining.
“Records never matter when you play the Wizards,” James said.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re in first place or who is not in first place. It’s always going to be like that every time we play them.”
Nuggets 114, Jazz 104: At Denver, the Nuggets reached 50 wins faster than any time in their NBA history (76 games), when J.R. Smith sank eight 3-pointers and scored 28 points in a 114-104 victory against the Jazz.
Smith had 21 points in 15 minutes in the first half, helping turn an 11-point deficit into a 54-43 halftime lead that Denver never surrendered against a team that has lost six of its last seven road games.
C.J. Miles led six Jazz players in double figures with 19 points.
76ers 105, Bucks 95: At Philadelphia, ex-Arizona Wildcat Andre Iguodala scored 20 points, Lou Williams had 14 of his 21 in the second half, and Philadelphia rallied from a 13-point first-half deficit.
Andre Miller contributed 18 points and 11 assists for the Sixers (39-35), who won their second straight and vaulted past Miami into fifth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.