- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 4, 2009

CLEVELAND | Flip Saunders said his Washington Wizards squad entered Tuesday night’s game at Quicken Loans Arena in a prime position. They would get to test themselves against a team that won a league-best 66 games last season, but because it was only the fourth game, the impact - win or lose - wouldn’t be great.

“I think it’s a good challenge from the standpoint that in one week’s time or a month, no one’s going to know who won the game basically,” Saunders said 90 minutes before tipoff. “But it’s also good as far as telling you where you’re at both the good and the bad.”

The good was that for a half, the Wizards managed to hang with the Cavaliers and even build a double-digit lead while holding LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal in check. The bad was when the Cavaliers started pounding the ball inside, Washington couldn’t match Cleveland’s physicality and quickly found its big men in foul trouble. And without Antawn Jamison, a slightly subpar Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas weren’t enough.

That resulted in a 102-90 Cleveland victory, which marked the Wizards’ fifth straight regular-season loss at Quicken Loans Arena dating to Feb. 24, 2006.

“The indication of the score early was how well we played at times, and the final indication of the score was how bad we played at times,” Saunders said. “We played really well, and then there’s no question when our bigs got in foul trouble the momentum changed from the standpoint that we couldn’t be aggressive around the basket. We couldn’t do some of the things we were doing offensively.”

James led Cleveland with 27 points, while O’Neal added 21 points and eight rebounds. Arenas and Butler tallied 22 points apiece for the Wizards, who fell to 2-2 on the season.

Early on, Butler showed no lingering effects of the bruised knee that forced him out of the second quarter of Washington’s game at Atlanta on Friday and caused him to miss Saturday’s home opener. He scored 13 first-quarter points to help Washington take a 31-17 lead into the second quarter against the Cavaliers.

The Wizards, who also got 10 points from Arenas to start the game, shot 55 percent from the field in the first quarter while limiting the Cavaliers to 33.3 percent shooting and holding James to four points.

Washington led by as many as 18 with just under 10 minutes left in the second quarter. Then Cleveland went to an extra-large lineup that featured the 7-foot-2 O’Neal and 7-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Coach Mike Brown’s move quickly caused problems for the Wizards’ big men. Brendan Haywood and Andray Blatche picked up three fouls apiece, while JaVale McGee had four and Fabricio Oberto two.

“We had something going. You look out there, and JaVale had four fouls in the first half. I had three. Andray had three. Fab had two,” Haywood said. “That’s 12 fouls for our big men alone. You read in between the lines the way you want to. The game was played a certain way until a certain point. … It’s a tough situation because you don’t want to talk bad about the referees, but you feel one way with how the game was called. I was just frustrated the way the game was called.”

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, cut the lead to 11 before James re-entered the game with just under eight minutes left in the half. Once back on the floor, James attacked the basket, getting to the foul line five times and making seven of nine free throws.

Adding to the Wizards’ struggles was a 7-for-20 shooting performance from the field, and by halftime the Cavaliers had trimmed the lead to 54-50.

In the third quarter it wasn’t James but the mop-topped Anderson Varejao who jump-started his team on a 12-4 run by grabbing three early rebounds and scoring six of his 10 points in the first four minutes of the quarter. Varejao’s baseline layup with 7:51 left in the third gave Cleveland a 59-58 lead (its first since the 6:03 mark of the first quarter). Cleveland never trailed again.

The Cavaliers used a 13-4 run (capped by a Daniel Gibson 3-pointer) in the opening 4 1/2 minutes of the fourth to expand the lead to 91-77. Gibson’s 3-pointer was one of four in the fourth quarter for Cleveland, which after going just 2-for-12 from the arc in the first half, made nine of 13 attempts in the second half. The Wizards, meanwhile, shot 9-for-29 in the second half.

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