Wizards edged by short-handed Cavs

The Baltimore Sun

CLEVELAND -- Short-handed, undermanned, inadequate. The Cleveland Cavaliers weren't themselves last night, nowhere close.

And it didn't matter.

LeBron James was still around.

James made two free throws with 7.8 seconds left and scored 33 points as the Cavaliers, playing with just eight one day after a huge trade, had enough to beat the Washington Wizards, 90-89.

"As long as I'm on the court, I expect us to win," James said.

As they say, it ain't braggin' if you can back it up.

Said Cavaliers coach Mike James: "I've said it a million times. LeBron James is the MVP. He was spectacular."

James added 15 rebounds and eight assists in 45 minutes for Cleveland, which added four players in an 11-player blockbuster deal Thursday but couldn't dress Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith (Maryland) or Delonte West.

James could have used some help, but, as always, he did whatever Cleveland needed.

Damon Jones scored a season-high 27 points for the Cavs, who were forced to sign Billy Thomas and Kaniel Dickens from the NBA Development League to 10-day contracts so they would have enough players to meet the league's required eight for a game.

Darius Songalia scored a season-high 19 points and DeShawn Stevenson had 18 to lead the Wizards, who have lost 10 of 11.

Washington doesn't have injured stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, but even at less than full strength, the Wizards figured they could handle the Cavaliers.

"It's frustrating to lose to anybody, whether you're short-handed or not," coach Eddie Jordan said. "But they have a great player. He's a monster. He creates for everyone else."

After James made his free throws, Washington went to Stevenson for the final shot. He drove the right side and lofted a high layup that bounced off the top of the backboard and then the front of the rim.

James grabbed the ball and fired it into the scoreboard in celebration. Jones jumped up on the scorer's table and pointed in the direction of his new teammates.

"I was telling them, 'C'mon, I can't be playing that many minutes,'" joked Jones, who logged 45, 25 more than his average. "I love to play and everything, but man."

Jones was also sending a message to the newest Cavaliers.

"We wanted to make those guys feel comfortable, let them know we're going to enjoy what they bring to us," he said.

After the morning shoot-around, James told Jones he would have to score 20 to 25 points for the Cavaliers to win.

"I knew he was going to get open looks," James said. "He scored 27, so I guess I was wrong."

The four newest Cavaliers were introduced to the crowd in the first quarter and received a thundering ovation as "Welcome To The Family" was flashed on the video scoreboard.

"It's great to walk into an arena where you used to be a rival, the enemy and be welcomed," Wallace said at halftime.

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