Last season’s playoff series between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards resembled a one-on-one showcase between LeBron James and Gilbert Arenas. When the teams meet on Saturday at the Verizon Center, the game could have that same kind of feel.
James got the better of Arenas in his first-ever postseason appearance, averaging 35.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.7 assists while helping the Cavaliers oust the Wizards in six games. Despite the gaudy numbers, James got some much-needed help from Larry Hughes, who averaged 12.3 points in the series and helped Cleveland win Games 3, 5 and 6 by one point each.
Hughes continued to torment Washington this season, scoring 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting in Cleveland’s 97-94 season-opening victory Nov. 1. But he is expected to miss his second straight game due to a high right ankle sprain suffered Wednesday.
“It has become a big rivalry,” James said after he had 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the first game between the teams this season.
Arenas averaged 34.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists versus Cleveland last postseason, but also struggled in his bid to avenge Washington’s playoff ouster earlier this month. He was held to a season-low seven points, but did have 11 assists and five rebounds in the loss.
“You’d think we’d learn from our mistakes,” Arenas said after season-opening loss. “We have to learn to finish these games.”
The Cavaliers (7-2) went 27-19 last season while Hughes was sidelined with a thumb injury and are showing again they can win without him. James had 37 points, nine rebounds and six assists to help Cleveland extend its winning streak to five games with a 100-87 win Friday over Minnesota.
James is averaging 31.0 points and shooting 53.4 percent (47-for-88) from the field during the winning streak.
“I didn’t force anything,” he said.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who entered the game averaging 7.6 points, added a season-high 14—all in the first three quarters— and pulled down eight rebounds. Replacing Hughes in the starting lineup, David Wesley scored eight points.
The Cavaliers—who have the best record in the Eastern Confernece—are 7-2 for just the fourth time in franchise history, and only the 1976-77 team started better at 8-1.
“It shows the caliber of team we are,” James said. “We feel we’re one of the best teams in the league. We’re proving that right now.”
Washington’s season-high losing streak reached three games with a 100-91 defeat Friday at Detroit, dropping the Wizards to 0-4 on the road. Arenas had 20 points while battling foul trouble and vented his frustration about the officiating.
“It is frustrating that every time you bump somebody, it’s an offensive foul,” he said. “I know I’m not that strong. When did flopping become part of basketball? I’m getting called for everything.”
Caron Butler scored 24 points, but fellow forward Antawn Jamison was held to a season-low eight on 3-for-12 shooting. Jamison, who is averaging 19.8 points, has totaled just 37 during Washington’s losing streak while making only 28.3 percent (13-for-46) of his shots.
Arenas has averaged 21.5 points in 15 lifetime games against the Cavaliers, scoring 25 or more points in eight of them.