Washington (5-1) at Cleveland (5-2)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Cleveland, OH
Temp: 77° F
  • Game info: 7:00 pm EST Tue Nov 15, 2005
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Gilbert Arenas improved every facet of his play in each of his first four seasons. The Washington Wizards are following his lead in 2005-06.

Coming off a dominant performance, Arenas leads the Wizards as they try for their best start in more than 30 years against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Wizards signed Arenas before the 2003-04 season. He battled several injuries and played in only 55 games that season, but led the team with 19.6 points per game.

Arenas bounced back to start all but two games in 2004-05, scoring a career-high 25.5 points per game to lead Washington to a 45-37 record and its first playoff berth since 1996-97. The Wizards eliminated Chicago in the first round in six games before Miami swept them out of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The 23-year-old shooting guard has picked up where he left off this season, scoring 28.5 points per game to help the Wizards to their first 5-1 start since 1989-90. He has topped 30 points in half of Washington’s games, including an NBA season-high 43 in a 110-95 win over San Antonio on Saturday.

With a victory over the Cavaliers, Washington will have its best start since opening 7-0 in 1974-75.

Arenas hit 11 of his first 12 shots against the Spurs and finished 15-for-20, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range. One night earlier, he scored 32 points in a 137-96 home win over Seattle.

“I was in the groove,” Arenas said after Saturday’s win. “I’m a scorer, and tonight I had it going, so I kept scoring. But the most important thing was the win. If I need to score to get the win, then I’m comfortable scoring. But if we’re better with me looking to set up guys, then I’ll try to do that, too.”

While Arenas and Antawn Jamison have sparked the offense, the Wizards’ defense has also shown vast improvement. Washington held Tim Duncan to 3-for-18 shooting, and leads the league in field-goal percentage defense at 39.1. The Wizards are the only club below 40 percent.

“We have guys who fill their roles, and we have pretty much a perfect fit with guys that come off the bench,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “They’re both defensive- and offensive-minded, so we’ve got a really well-balanced team.”

The Wizards open a three-game road trip against a Cavs team that has won four in a row since a 1-2 start.

James became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 4,000 points Sunday night, scoring 26 to help Cleveland beat Orlando 108-100 in overtime.

James (20 years, 318 days) entered the game needing 10 points to pass Kobe Bryant (21 years, 216 days) and reached the milestone with 58.7 seconds left in the first quarter.

“I don’t let individual statistics make me unfocused or more focused,” James said. “I just came out and tried to attack early, and get us a big lead. We were able to take it into overtime and get a win.”

Donyell Marshall hit a 3-pointer with 18.1 seconds left to send the game to the extra period, and finished with 17 points. Larry Hughes added 22 for Cleveland, which won its previous three games by an average of 19.3 points.

“We needed a game like this,” Marshall said. “We needed a game to show what we can do and start learning how to think at the end of the game. It was a good test for us.”

The Cavs begin a two-game homestand that concludes with a rematch against the Magic on Friday.

STANDINGS (through Nov. 14): Wizards - 1st place, Southeast Division. Cavaliers - 2nd place (tied), 1 1/2 GB, Central Division.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Wizards - F Jared Jeffries, F Jamison, C Brendan Haywood, G Antonio Daniels, G Arenas. Cavaliers - F James, F Drew Gooden, C Zydrunas Ilgauskas, G Hughes, G Eric Snow.

TEAM LEADERS: Wizards - Arenas, 28.5 ppg and 6 apg; Jamison, 9.5 rpg. Cavaliers - James, 26.7 ppg; Ilgauskas, 8.7 rpg; Snow, 4 apg.

2004-05 SEASON SERIES: Wizards, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: April 15; Wizards, 119-111. At Washington, Arenas scored 33 points, shot 12-of-16 from the field and had nine assists. Hughes scored 16 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter for the Wizards, who shot 59 percent for the game.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Wizards - 2-0 on the road; Cavaliers - 3-0 at home.

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