WASHINGTON — After playing like zombies for the better part of the past two weeks, the Cleveland Cavaliers arrived Friday night at Verizon Center locked in, focused and actually interested in playing basketball.
How much that had to do with the events of Thursday are debatable, but regardless, the longest losing streak of the season is over.
Kyrie Irving had 23 points and 12 assists, and Dion Waiters had 24 points off the bench as the Cavaliers ended a six-game losing streak with a 115-113 victory over the Washington Wizards in the first game after the firing of former General Manager Chris Grant.
When he fired Grant, owner Dan Gilbert specifically said it wasn’t a move made to affect this game or even next week.
Regardless, the move affected Waiters.
“A guy like that (Grant) took a chance on me, made my dreams come true,” Waiters said.
“I feel as though I had to come out here and play hard and give it my best.”
That effort level has been lacking the past couple of weeks, but the Cavs played inspired offensively and did a decent job of defending in the second half. Irving, who missed the morning shootaround because he wasn’t feeling well, had 12 points and 10 assists at halftime.
He left late in the third quarter with a sore ankle and briefly headed for the locker room to get his ankle stretched, but he returned to finish a game the Cavs controlled throughout much of the fourth quarter until the final minute.
Jarrett Jack missed two free throws in the final seconds, giving the Wizards a chance to tie on a long inbounds pass with two-tenths left. But Nene’s over-the-head heave at the buzzer had little chance.
“He helped make his teammates better tonight,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said of Irving. “That was fun to see.”
Luol Deng missed the game because he was vomiting most of the day, but C.J. Miles started in his place and scored 18 points. Anthony Bennett had eight points and six assists in one of his better pro games and Alonzo Gee played 27 minutes, his most since playing 34 in a blowout win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 24.
That’s also the Cavs’ most recent victory. Gee had 11 points and seven rebounds, including an important putback dunk to put the Cavs ahead 105-96 with 2:50 left.
It was the Cavs’ first game since a humiliating loss at home to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, when the Lakers finished the game with only four eligible players. That was followed by Grant’s firing Thursday morning. The Cavs had lost eight of their past nine, but Brown didn’t think the firing had any impact on this game.
“Chris doesn’t play any games for us or anything like that,” Brown said. “The guys just went out and executed on both ends and we got a win.”
John Wall had 32 points and 10 assists in a matchup of All-Star point guards, and Martell Webster came off the bench to make six 3-pointers for the Wizards, who began the night at .500 and the fifth seed in the East.
They have been plagued by performances like this in the past. They have beaten the Miami Heat, Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors this season, but have lost home games to Eastern Conference weaklings Boston, Detroit, Milwaukee and now the Cavs.
“The energy was different,” Waiters said. “These guys knew what was at stake, after going through a situation like we went through. We had to come out here and play hard. We were facing adversity. It wasn’t the first time for us. At the end of the day, we came out here and played hard and got a big win.”