“We’re just getting started,” James said. “We’re getting better every game.”
“Oh, is it?” James said when told that he had finally reached .500 in his second season in the NBA. “It feels good. But we can take this to another level.”
James has been raising his game lately when the Cavaliers need him most.
He scored nine of the Cavaliers’ first 11 points in the fourth, taking over just as he did Wednesday when he outscored Phoenix 17-14 in the final 12 minutes and the Cavs overcame a 19-point deficit to win in overtime.
The reigning rookie of the year came in as the NBA’s second leading scorer and Cleveland’s undisputed leader. James has accounted for 37 percent of the Cavaliers’ points in the fourth quarter.
“He’s the best,” Cavs coach Paul Silas said. “He’s unbelievable. He wants the ball and he wants the responsibility. Everything we need, he provides. He’s so special.”
James added nine rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks in 38 minutes.
During their three-game winning streak, the Cavs have outscored their opponents 83-38 in the fourth.
Gilbert Arenas scored 25 points to lead the Wizards, who ran out of gas after trimming a 23-point deficit to six in the third quarter.
Antawn Jamison had 14 and nine rebounds for Washington, which was held 28 points under its average and got outrebounded 62-32—23-5 in the fourth quarter.
“That’s no excuse,” center Brandan Haywood said. “On the offensive end, we have to do a better job of boxing everybody out, from the center spot to the guard spot.”
Washington trailed by 17 at half and 21 in the third when Arenas heated up, hitting a pair of 3s and scoring 10 during a 19-4 spurt to bring Washington within 60-54.
The Cavs, however, responded by going to Ilgauskas, who scored eight points in a 16-4 burst as Cleveland went ahead 76-61 entering the fourth.
James then hit a 14-foot turnaround jumper, two free throws and a 16-footer before completing a three-point play to put the Cavs ahead 87-67 with 7:41 left.
Gooden was fouled making a fine up-and-under layup and his free throw made it 92-67 with 6:15 to go. As Gooden went to the foul line, James walked toward center court, waving his arms to get the Gund Arena crowd on its feet.
Unlike last season when he would defer to veteran teammates down the stretch, James wants the ball in the fourth.
“My teammates know they can count on me and come to me,” he said. “I want to lead this team.”
James, Ilgauskas and Gooden were all replaced with more than six minutes left as Silas was able to clear his bench in the fourth quarter for the first time this season.
“We’re starting to get it,” said Silas, whose team started 6-19 a year ago. “We came out with a fire and I thought our focus was as good as I’ve seen it.”
James has scored more than 20 points in all six games this season. … the Wizards’ Larry Hughes missed all eight shots in the first half. … Silas said G Dajuan Wagner (ankle sprain) isn’t quite ready to come off the injured list. … Wizards G Steve Blake, who underwent surgery on his right ankle in September, was sore after practicing on Friday. Coach Eddie Jordan will evaluate Blake next week before deciding when to activate him. … Gooden added four steals. … Haywood tied a career-high with seven blocks.