Cavaliers claim 2-1 lead in series

James hits winner, scores 41

Arenas has 34

Cavaliers 97 Wizards 96

Pro Basketball

April 29, 2006|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

Washington -- LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards were engaged in the type of shooting duel deserving of their status as two of the NBA's brightest young stars, each trying to enhance his reputation on the enormous stage of the playoffs.

James added to his lore last night at Verizon Center, finishing off a 41-point performance with the game-winning basket in Cleveland's come-from-behind, 97-96 victory. It gave the Cavaliers a 2-1 lead heading into Game 4 in the best-of-seven opening-round series tomorrow night in Washington.

After James nearly was blocked and then scored on a power drive with 5.7 seconds left, the Wizards went to Arenas. The Wizards then watched as Arenas missed a wide-open three from the left wing that rimmed out. James watched it, too.

"I thought it was good," James said. "My angle, it took forever, like I was watching it for 10 seconds, like the ball was never coming down. It was like, `Please don't go in.' When you're a great shooter and you're wide-open, those are the toughest shots to make."

Said Arenas, who hit a game-winning shot in last year's playoffs against Chicago, "You are going to miss more than you make in your career. I missed that one, but I am going to have more opportunities to make one."

Arenas, who scored half of his team-high 34 points in the final quarter, had put the Wizards ahead 96-95 on a three-point play with 23.4 seconds remaining. But James immediately answered as he fought off a double team and, with Antonio Daniels guarding him on a switch, used his size to drive to the basket and score on a 4-foot bank shot.

"For a guy who drives to the basket, he has to get hit," said Arenas, who hit 12 of 25 shots to 16 of 28 for James. "I'm getting hit. We have to keep our bigs there to discourage him. When you're 6-8 and 235 pounds, you don't feel that you need to settle for a jump shot."

But Arenas did, simply because there wasn't enough time to drive. On the game's final sequence, Washington was out of timeouts and nearly out of time when Arenas found himself open just outside the three-point line as Larry Hughes, his former teammate in Washington and Golden State, slipped. The shot went in and out.

The defeat was particularly deflating for the Wizards, who led by as many as 14 in the second quarter and after James had briefly given the Cavaliers a one-point lead early in the fourth, found themselves ahead 90-84 with 4:16 remaining. But a flurry of turnovers - and a 13-point third quarter - undid Washington.

"We reverted back to Game 1 tendencies," said Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, whose team trailed the Chicago Bulls 2-1 last year in the opening round after losing the first two games on the road and then winning four straight.

It appeared as if Arenas would save his teammates from defeat when his three-point play put Washington momentarily ahead with 23.4 seconds left. That was before James, who didn't hit the first game-winning shot in his three-year NBA career until March, made another. This was different, coming in the playoffs.

"I had some unfortunate plays earlier in the season where I did not capitalize," James said. "But it has paid off and made me a better and stronger player late in the season."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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