Cleveland trailed by 19 points entering the fourth quarter Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns before James almost singlehandedly rallied the Cavs to a 114-109 overtime victory.
The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year scored a season-high 38 points, 17 in the fourth when he outscored the Suns by three, in leading the Cavs to the largest fourth-quarter comeback in franchise history.
James made layups and short jumpers. He rocked the backboard with a monstrous dunk in the final minute. He made a clutch 3-pointer and all his free throws, hitting a pair with 34 seconds remaining to get Cleveland within a point.
With the Cavs down three, James drew a double-team before passing to center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who hit his fourth career 3-pointer from the top of the key with 3.6 seconds left.
James added 10 rebounds, six assists, three steals and three blocks in 48 minutes.
“I just felt I had to make something happen,” James said. “I’m a leader, that’s how I look at it.”
Cleveland coach Paul Silas has noticed a difference in his 19-year-old star, who through Thursday’s games was the league’s leading scorer at 28.6 points per game.
“It’s an inner confidence that he has now that he didn’t have last year because it was all new to him,” Silas said. “But he understands that he can take over a game and win it for you. It’s all mental now.
“The physical was there last year, but the mental is the most important thing, where he knows that ‘Give me the ball and I can get it done for you’ and he goes out and does that.”
Washington won its first two games this season before losing its next two, but got back on the winning track Wednesday with a 106-96 victory over the Orlando Magic.
For the second time in a decade, the Wizards have a winning record after five games. They also opened 3-2 last year, their first winning start after five games since the 1994-95 season.
“It’s a big victory for us,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We have to get better, though.”
“It’s still kind of early but we like the place we’re at and we like the direction we’re going,” Hayes said.
STANDINGS (through Nov. 11): Wizards - 2nd place (tied), 1 GB, Southeast Division. Cavaliers - 4th place, 2 GB, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Wizards - Jamison, 24.4 ppg and 8.4 rpg; Arenas, 6.3 apg. Cavaliers - James, 28.6 ppg and 6.4 apg; Ilgauskas, 9.0 rpg.
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: 2-2.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 7; Wizards, 106-88. At Cleveland, Arenas scored 26 points and Kwame Brown added 20 points and 10 rebounds as the Wizards snapped an 11-game road losing streak. James scored 14 points for the Cavs, but went just 3-for-10 after scoring eight points in the first quarter.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Wizards - 2-1 on the road; Cavaliers - 1-1 at home.