WASHINGTON (AP) – Look out, NBA. Walking to the locker room after scoring 57 points Friday night, LeBron James expressed what amounted to a warning for upcoming opponents: “This is the best I’m feeling in my career.”
Just in case there were any questions about Eastern Conference supremacy, James poured in the second-highest point total of his career and an NBA-best this season to help his Cleveland Cavaliers end a four-game losing skid by beating the Washington Wizards 130-122 on Friday night.
“Every shot that I took,” the four-time league MVP said, “I felt like it was going in.”
He hadn’t scored this much since getting a career-high 61 for the Miami Heat on March 3, 2014, against the Charlotte Hornets.
And James did it efficiently against Washington, making 23 of 34 field-goal tries and all nine free throws, adding 11 rebounds and seven assists.
“He still has it, if you guys didn’t know that,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “We knew that.”
Perhaps. But neither Brooks nor his players could find a way to slow James. Several Wizards tried to – including All-Star point guard John Wall, even after he hurt his left shoulder so badly that he was wearing black sling in the locker room.
“It’s on fire right now,” Wall said about his shoulder, which he hurt on a collision with Channing Frye. “It was like my arm went dead.”
Wall stayed in the game and had X-rays afterward but won’t get results until Saturday.
At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Wall never really stood much of a chance against James, who is listed at 6-8, 250, especially in the low post.
“Whenever you’re hitting tough, hand-in-your-face turnaround fadeaways from off the left and the right shoulder, it’s your night,” Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. said about James. “He was on a different level tonight.”
And did it with style at both ends of the floor, too.
James hurdled over a seated Bradley Beal while dribbling, swatted a shot by Wall off the backboard, and looked for a camera to wag both index fingers at in the midst of a three-point play.
Probably just a coincidence that Washington’s two starting guards said in an interview shown on ESPN earlier Friday that they thought the Cavaliers wanted to avoid the Wizards in the playoffs last season.
And while Beal backed up that sort of talk, scoring 36 points, Wall was not at his peak. Yes, he handed out 15 assists, but he scored only 13 points, shooting 4 for 13 from the field and going 5 for 12 on free throws.
James wouldn’t take the bait when asked about what Beal and Wall had said, replying: “I don’t have a comment about that. I have so much more on my plate right now.”
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue skirted the topic also, saying in a voice dripping with sarcasm: “They’re right: They are the best team in the East.”
James didn’t need much help, but teammates Derrick Rose (20 points) and Jae Crowder (17) each managed to top their season highs before the third quarter was done.
Cleveland finally looked like a team that has been to the NBA Finals three consecutive years, thanks in large part to James.
“It’s like it’s ‘his’ Finals. Seems like every year he’s there,” Brooks said before tipoff. “I can imagine there’s no, like, panic in their locker room.”
Cavaliers: James reached at least 10 points for the 800th game in a row; Michael Jordan (866) is the only other NBA player with a streak that long. … James, 32, also became the youngest player to reach 29,000 career points in the NBA. Last season, he became the youngest to reach 27,000, and then the youngest to reach 28,000.
Wizards: Oubre showed up to the arena wearing a jacket with a curse word sewn onto the back. … F Otto Porter Jr. scored 15 points in his return after missing one game because of an illness.
In his season debut, Wizards F Markieff Morris had two points, four rebounds and one flagrant foul in 16 minutes. Morris had offseason sports hernia surgery, then missed one game because of a league suspension. “Just trying to get back in a groove,” Morris said.
Cavaliers: Host the East-worst Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.
Wizards: At Toronto on Sunday, before returning to Washington for a four-game homestand.