LeBron James lost the battle for an offensive rebound and stewed in frustration while everyone else ran downcourt, leaving his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates to defend 4-on-5 at the other end while the game was still in the balance in the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers went the final 9 minutes without scoring a field goal in Friday night’s 91-78 loss to the Washington Wizards, a third consecutive loss and one that puts James under .500 more than 10 games into a season for the first time in six years.
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Looking for reasons? Start with lack of hustle, lack of teamwork. James was slow to get back more than once in that fourth quarter, something he conceded is "never a good example" for a team leader. Asked about his team’s body language, he said flatly: "It’s not good."
"It’s something we’ve got to work on. We understand that. It starts with me, for sure. It’s something I’ll always work on, too," James said. "It trickles down to everyone else."
Coach David Blatt was just as blunt. He cited "irresponsible play" and "bad decisions" for some of his team’s 19 turnovers.
"We’re a little bit in the dark," Blatt said, "and we’ve got to find our way out."
John Wall took over in the third quarter and finished with 28 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the hustling Wizards, who have won four of five. Resuming a rivalry that peaked last decade when Washington and James’ Cavaliers met three consecutive years in the playoffs — it was so intense that both Jay-Z and Soulja Boy got involved — the Wizards eagerly pounced on their old nemesis, grabbing a majority of the 50-50 balls and capitalizing on the defensive woes that have led to Cleveland’s surprisingly mediocre start.
"I feel like it’s a statement," Wall said, "because we lost at Toronto pretty badly, Dallas we feel like we let that game go away, and we haven’t beat a big-name team (as) everybody says, so this game is pretty big."
James scored 22 points on 8-for-21 shooting, but the Cavaliers shot 36 percent, scored a season-low in points and looked flat-footed as they fell to 5-6.
"There were a lot of balls on the floor," Blatt said, "Especially when you’re struggling — I don’t want to say you’ve got to kill yourself, but you have to do whatever it takes to get balls like that to gain a little bit of ground, and we did not."
There was no big-time rapper performing at this game — unless that counts James rapping with headphones on at his locker before the game — but NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey were among the see-and-be-seen crowd at the Wizards’ first sellout of the season.
Wall scored 17 points in the third quarter, responding after the Wizards hit a rare lull. Washington had a 55-42 halftime lead shrunk to 60-53, but the 2010 No. 1 overall draft pick then began to assert himself at both ends.
"I told him, man, when he gets going, he has to just keep going," teammate Bradley Beal said. "He can’t stop."
Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving went 0 for 6 from 3-point range, and the team went 6 for 27. … Kevin Love scored a season-low eight points and was targeted by the Wizards at the other end. "For sure, we went straight up at him," said Washington forward Kevin Seraphin, who scored all of his 12 points mostly with hook shots in the second quarter. "Coach directly called for me and Nene, and we just keep going at him."
Wizards: Cleveland got the better of Washington in all three of their first-round series meetings from 2006-08. Soulja Boy performed live at Game 3 in the 2008 series. On Friday, Washington played one of his songs during a fourth-quarter timeout. … Coach Randy Wittman got a technical in the third quarter for arguing a charging call on Nene.