Wizards show they can beat champs

WIZARDS 127, CAVA­LIERS 115 Wall scores 37 to avenge last month’s OT loss

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY CANDACE BUCKNER

cleve­land — John Wall and Bradley Beal re­cently had a locker room dis­cus­sion about which win ranked as the Wash­ing­ton Wizards’ best of the sea­son. Wall still placed the Feb. 6 over­time loss to the Cleve­land Cava­liers at the top of his list, and even on Satur­day night he still called it a “hell of a game with a mirac­u­lous shot.”

Wall might need to re­vise his list after the Wizards’ 127-115 vic­tory over the de­fend­ing NBA cham­pi­ons in their own build­ing.

The loss last month proved one thing to the Wizards: They could play with the Cava­liers. But could they beat them?

On Satur­day night, Wash­ing­ton defini­tively an­swered the ques­tion. The Wizards might have earned the Cavs’ re­spect after the last game. Now they have the full at­ten­tion of LeBron James & Co. as the play­offs ap­proach.

“It was huge. We’ve shown now that we can win here,” Beal said. “With the crowd and all their guys play­ing . . . . They re­spected us from last game, and def­i­nitely [now with] this game.

“We re­ally wanted this game,” Beal con­tin­ued. “Es­pe­cially with the way the last one ended. We wanted to make sure we left no doubt on the floor.”

Wash­ing­ton (45-28) torched Cleve­land (47-25) by ty­ing a sea­son high with 40 points in the first quar­ter and scor­ing 71 in the first half. Wall opened the game by mak­ing eight straight shots, a ca­reer high for most makes with­out a miss, and fin­ished with 37 points (14 for 21 from the field) and 11 as­sists.

“I was be­ing ag­gres­sive,” Wall said, “but also try­ing to find those guys at the same time.”

Beal added 27 points and six as­sists. In place of Bo­jan Bog­danovic, who missed the game with back tight­ness, Kelly Oubre Jr. re­turned to his role in the

Wizards at Lak­ers Tues­day, 10:30 p.m., CSN Plus

Wizards’ ef­fec­tive no-cen­ter lineup. As the team played small through most of the fourth quar­ter, Oubre scored 10 of his 16 points while also per­form­ing at his dis­rup­tive best on the de­fen­sive end.

The Cava­liers, who pos­sess the sec­ond-worst de­fen­sive rat­ing in the NBA since the all-star break, al­lowed the Wizards to shoot 59.8 per­cent from the field. James played with a corneal abra­sion in his right eye and tem­po­rar­ily tried wear­ing gog­gles that he an­grily tossed after miss­ing a shot. He fin­ished with 24 points.

After Cleve­land’s pregame video con­cluded with the im­age of James drilling the game-ty­ing three-pointer at the end of reg­u­la­tion Feb. 6, the Wizards went about ex­or­cis­ing that mem­ory. Wall as­sisted on the game’s first field goal (a pass to Marcin Gor­tat un­der the rim) and then made his first shot (a pull-up jumper from 15 feet). Wall would spend the next 10 min­utes as an of­fen­sive mas­ter, hit­ting ev­ery shot he took while or­ches­trat­ing for his team­mates.

Around the court, the Wizards fol­lowed Wall’s lead. Beal drove in for a floater to pad the ad­van­tage to seven. Ja­son Smith hopped off the bench and popped a midrange jumper as the Wizards pulled ahead by 10. Then with six sec­onds re­main­ing, Bran­don Jen­nings passed up a cor­ner look and swung the ball to Smith for the team’s fourth three-pointer. As the ball ripped through the net, the Wizards’ lead now at 14 points, Cava­liers for­ward Kevin Love could only turn away and pout.

“When we play with great en- ergy in that first quar­ter,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said, “we have a chance to win the game.

“Tonight was a good job of re­ally at­tack­ing.”

For the quar­ter, the Wizards shot 81.8 per­cent as Wall scored or as­sisted on 28 of the team’s 40 points. But their per­for­mance through the re­main­der of the night might have shown more about the team’s char­ac­ter.

In front of a sold-out vis­it­ing arena — with scream­ing fans who parked in their seats be­fore tip-off — and star­ing at a now-mo­ti­vated Cava­liers team, Wash­ing­ton quelled ev­ery re­bel­lion.

By the third quar­ter, the game grew phys­i­cal. While scram­bling in one de­fen­sive pos­ses­sion, Otto Porter Jr. hit the back of his head against the hard­wood and yet got up to fin­ish the play. Porter fin­ished with 10 points, six re­bounds, three steals and two blocks.

In the fourth quar­ter, as Cleve­land cut the lead to four, Wall at­tacked a stum­bling Kyle Korver, and though it might have been the one of those rare times this sea­son that he wasn’t touched on his way to the rim, Wall was still re­warded with two free throws.

Then Oubre stepped in with his en­ergy and ef­fort. On con­sec­u­tive pos­ses­sions, Oubre cleaned up misses, beat­ing the de­fense to the rim with two in­te­rior buck­ets. The Wizards went ahead by 10 points.

Later, Porter picked off a pass and slammed home the ex­cla­ma­tion point with 2:24 re­main­ing and the Wizards kicked off their five-game trip with a matchup that should now end the de­bate. This was the Wizards’ best win of the sea­son.

“We just wanted to come out and get a win. You don’t want to lose to a team where you had a chance to win and they took it. They took it away. They won it hand­ily,” Wall said, re­fer­ring to last month. “You don’t want to go into the play­offs know­ing you might have to face those guys and you haven’t won in the reg­u­lar sea­son.”

KEN BLAZE/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Wash­ing­ton’s John Wall, who had 37 points and 11 as­sists, goes up for a shot as Cleve­land’s LeBron James de­fends Satur­day night.

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