WASHINGTON – The Washington Wizards were perfectly happy to miss LeBron James.
With the Cleveland Cavaliers` superstar sidelined for a fourth straight game with a sprained left index finger, the Wizards took advantage to beat the Cavaliers 105-86 on Wednesday night.
Washington`s past two playoff runs were ended by Cleveland, including a sweep in the first round last spring when the Wizards were without Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.
On Wednesday, the Wizards were again without Arenas, who had an operation on his left knee for the second time in seven months.
But Butler took advantage of James` absence and scored 27 points to send Cleveland to its fifth straight loss – its first five-game skid since Feb. 22-March 1, 2006.
“It felt good to get a win against Cleveland after they swept us in the playoffs,” Butler said.
The playoffs were an unhappy time for Butler.
“Sitting on the sidelines with (Arenas), going through that depressing stage. Whenever you see them, you`re itching to play against them,” Butler said.
Washington is 6-4 without Arenas, but had lots of contributions from others. Antawn Jamison had 17 points and 12 rebounds for Washington. Brendan Haywood finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds as the Wizards outrebounded the Cavs 45-29.
Wizards coach Eddie Jordan contemplated playing the James-less Cavaliers before the game, and remembered last spring`s playoffs.
“It`s like the bully coming to the fight without the brass knuckles and the baseball bats. They`ve been bullying us,” Jordan said. “We want to return the favor.”
After the game, he said he relished the revenge.
“There`s a specialness. We were suffering in the playoffs and we had to repay them,” Jordan said.
Jamison claims to be friendly with James, but was happy to see him wearing a suit instead of a uniform.
“I`ve seen the guy the last two playoffs. I didn`t miss the guy at all,” Jamison said. “It actually felt pretty good. I`m good friends with him. I wish him a speedy recovery. I`m just kind of glad it wasn`t tonight.”
The Wizards had a relatively easy time. Butler`s jumper to end the first quarter gave Washington a 22-21 lead, and sparked a 21-4 tear that put the Wizards up 41-25 with 4:52 left in the second half.
Washington led by 28 early in the third quarter, which didn`t make Cleveland coach Mike Brown happy. After the Cavaliers were pasted by New Jersey 100-79 on Tuesday, Brown ripped his team. He didn`t back off his comments before Wednesday`s game and afterward was none too pleased.
“We didn`t compete like we are capable of,” Brown said. “There were times that we just didn`t put bodies on bodies.”
Missing James, Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, and Anderson Varejao, who had sat out this season in a contract disupte resolved Wednesday, the Cavaliers bear little resemblance to last season`s Eastern Conference champions.
“We can win games, but obviously we`re going to have to get some bodies healthy for us to be able to get back to where we were at the end of last year,” Brown said.
Cleveland cut the lead 88-79 midway through the fourth quarter. But with James, who didn`t talk to the media, sitting on the bench, the Cavaliers couldn`t get any closer.
Drew Gooden, Shannon Brown and Daniel Gibson scored 13 points apiece for Cleveland.
“More than anything, as a team offensively we`ve really been struggling. Our shot selection, our decision-making – it`s just not been good,” Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said.
Notes:@ Snow fell from morning into the night in the Washington area, so the Wizards told fans they could exchange tickets to Wednesday night`s game for seats at a Dec. 15 home game against the Sacramento Kings. … Gooden is having a beard-growing contest with Washington`s DeShawn Stevenson that the two started before the season. The first to shave loses. “What`s the stakes? I`m going to keep that to myself,” Gooden said. “I`m not going to lose.” They played on the same AAU team, faced each other in high school and were teammates with the Orlando Magic. “We`ve been together at every level of basketball,” Gooden said.
Wild Thing back in the fold
CLEVELAND – Just like that, things are now remarkably tame between the Cavaliers and “The Wild Thing.”
Cleveland on Wednesday matched the three-year, $17.4 million offer sheet Anderson Varejao signed with the Charlotte Bobcats late Monday. Not only that, the power forward is expected to be in Cleveland today. He will take his physical on Friday and could be in uniform as early as next week.
And to think that a little more than a week ago a desperate Varejao said in an ESPN Insider article that he no longer wanted to play in Cleveland.
“I`m not concerned,” Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry said. “Our guys all enjoyed playing with Andy (last season) and respect him as a player.”
Added Varejao`s agent, Dan Fegan: “Statements made by a young player in the heat of negotiations are typically just venting frustration and are not reflective of the player`s true feelings about a team, organization and city. Andy`s going to bring the same hustle, energy and love for the game. It`s infectious. For all parties, it`s going to be behind us relatively quickly.”
Varejao and Fegan were originally seeking a six-year deal that would have paid the 25-year-old more than $10 million a season, but never came close to getting that much from the Cavaliers or anyone else.
Cleveland, which waived rookie swingman Demetris Nichols to clear a roster spot, did offer Varejao a three-year, $20 million deal, but he ended up signing an offer sheet with the Bobcats for less money because the final year is a player option. That means Varejao is guaranteed of earning $11.3 million over 2007-08 and 2008-09, but can choose to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, when many teams are expected to have significant salary cap room.
“That`s the million-dollar question,” Fegan said when asked why it took so long for Varejao to get a contract. “Let`s drain the emotion out of the process. A lot of it was unchartered territory for an NBA contract (because Varejao declined Cleveland`s one-year qualifying offer of $1.2 million).”
Of more immediate concern to the struggling Cavaliers, who had lost four straight games heading into a contest in Washington on Wednesday, is the help Varejao might be able to provide a shorthanded front line.
Starters Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden have been performing admirably, but veteran Donyell Marshall (wrist) and youngster Cedric Simmons (ankle) are currently out with injuries, leaving Dwayne Jones as the only big man off the bench. Even when healthy, those players don`t have the ability to influence a game the way Varejao does.
Also, superstar small forward LeBron James, who has played a lot of power forward this season, Wednesday missed his fourth straight game with a sprained left index finger, while guard Larry Hughes is out with a bruised knee.
“We knew we needed more depth on the front line,” Ferry said. “We know what Andy brings as a player because we`ve had him for a couple of years. Obviously, he makes us a better basketball team.”
Exactly what kind of shape the high-energy Varejao is in is not known, but the 6-foot-10, 240-pounder will need his legs and wind in order to create his normal chaos on both ends of the floor.
“He`s in good shape, but there`s a big difference between working out two times a day and playing NBA basketball,” Fegan said. “He`s been working out twice a day, but there`s no question that when you miss training camp, the implementing of a new offense and 20 games of the season, there`s going to be some catchup.”
A year ago, Varejao averaged 6.8 points and 6.7 rebounds while leading the league in charges taken, but the Brazilian`s true value to the Cavaliers can`t be measured by statistics. Though he`s a below-average offensive player and prone to huge mental mistakes at the defensive end, Varejao`s energy and enthusiasm off the bench have a way of totally changing a game.
One concern, though, is how coach Mike Brown will manage his big men`s minutes. A year ago, he was prone to playing Varejao and Marshall too much at the expense of Ilgauskas and Gooden, especially down the stretch of close games.
Regardless how that works out, the Cavaliers are happy they`re adding another solid player to their thin front line.
“Andy`s a player we like and admire,” Ferry said. “We`re excited to have him back in Cleveland.”
Noland may be reached at email@example.com