Cavaliers’ James returns to elite level

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As if LeBron James needs to prove anything at this point, he showed he can pick himself up, dust himself off and take the best of what the Wizards can dish out.

The question now is whether the Wizards can do the same after giving up their home court advantage almost as quickly as they gained it.

As he has been all season, James was Mr. Everything for the Cleveland Cavaliers last night. He scored 41 points and hit the game-winning basket with 5.7 seconds left, the winning margin in the Cavaliers’ 97-96 Game 3 playoff victory over the Wizards at Verizon Center.

This happened after a Game 2 in which James was hounded into 7-for-25 shooting from the floor, due in part to the Wizards use of what some saw as bully tactics or at least something close to it. That is, they were uncharacteristically physical and aggressive on defense, and dealt out the occasional hard foul.

How would James, who had a triple-double in Game 1, his first playoff appearance ever, handle such supposed abuse? The world wondered. Then he gave his answer: He shredded the Wizards in Game 3 as Cleveland took a 2-1 advantage. He attacked the basket with abandon and fired jumpers, ultimately winning the game nearly by himself.

James had said after Game 2 that he never has two bad games in a row. As the great ones do, he delivered.

“I watched Game 2 over and over and I saw the adjustments the Wizards made [from Game 1],” he said. “Me being the person I am, I had to counter their attack.”

Cleveland coach Mike Brown afterward credited nearly his entire roster, which is good for morale. But he could not ignore the obvious.

“LeBron James is special,” he said. “He’s a heck of a player. Excuse my French, he’s a [heck] of a player.”

James’ basket at the end was a huge play in any language. Everyone, even those not watching the game, knew it would come down to LeBron taking the shot after Gilbert Arenas put the Wizards up, 96-95 with 23.4 seconds left.

With every Wizards player seeming to get a turn at defending, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound James worked his way into the left side of the lane, got Antonio Daniels in the air with a fake, took a big step toward the basket and put the shot over 6-8 Michael Ruffin, the last line of defense.

That still gave Washington plenty of time to win, but Arenas’ 3-point attempt hit the rim and went awry.

James, who made 16 of 28 shots and took just nine free throws[NOTE]cq[NOTE] (a source of mystery to Brown), said the play was similar to one the Cavaliers ran in the first half.

“It looked pretty good and we came back to it,” he said. “It was just a good play.”

The Wizards, for all their success in Game 2 with James and talk of their new-found aggression, seemed to regress defensively.

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