- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 19, 2009

After missing the first nine games of the season, Wizards forward Antawn Jamison didn’t show the slightest trace of rust in his season debut against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night at Verizon Center.

Instead, the two-time All-Star put his struggling team on his back and carried it to a 108-91 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 20,173 fans.

Jamison picked up career double-double No. 263, recording 31 points and 10 rebounds, and helped the Wizards snap a six-game losing streak.

“Me coming back and just trying to stop the bleeding a little bit, we found a way to pull it off,” said Jamison, who made 12 of 22 shots from the field and five of six from the foul line. “Guys did a great job of staying focused for 48 minutes.

“One thing I’ve noticed lately is our energy level has been down. Whether we miss a couple of shots or make a run, guys run to the huddle with their heads down, and that’s something that I knew that I could come in and change that and just move that ball from one end to the other - another added weapon for them to really key in on. I’ve been sitting down for what seems like forever, so I had a lot of energy. I knew it was going to be different from what we’ve been doing.”

The Wizards - who in their last meeting with Cleveland (on Nov. 3) blew an 18-point first-half lead and lost 102-90 - certainly had reason to hang their heads early in Wednesday’s rematch.

Jamison scored 13 of his team’s 22 first-quarter points, but the rest of the team struggled, going a combined 3-for-13 from the field. Cleveland, meanwhile, shot 64 percent from the field while closing the first quarter on a 12-4 run and taking a 32-22 lead. The Cavaliers extended their lead to 17 points at 39-22 by scoring seven unanswered points in the first four minutes of the second quarter.

But Jamison refused to let them wither away. After Washington’s captain sank a runner from seven feet, one of his teammates finally followed suit. Mike Miller made back-to-back 3-pointers, Jamison tipped in a shot, and then Miller scored on a layup that cut lead to 41-34 with 4:45 left in the half. Eight straight free throws cut the lead to 45-42, but Cleveland regained a 51-44 lead at halftime.

Arenas, who in the first half was 1-for-9 - including 0-for-6 from 3-point range - finally got a shot to fall to start the third quarter. And the point guard scored a team-high 14 points in the third.

“Each quarter we had someone different step up,” said Arenas, who had only two turnovers. “Antawn… came out stroking it. He dominated that first quarter, Mike Miller dominated in the second quarter, I dominated in the third quarter, then Earl Boykins and Caron [Butler] came in and dominated the fourth. We just had a real balanced effort tonight.”

The Wizards carried a 75-72 lead into the fourth quarter, and with Arenas and Jamison watching from the bench, Washington blew the Cavaliers away. Boykins and Butler led Washington on a 25-8 charge that ballooned a three-point lead into a 100-80 advantage. In the quarter, Boykins had nine points and two assists, and Butler scored 13 points.

“We said from the beginning that depth will always help you,” coach Flip Saunders said. “I told our guys in the locker room that if we have a group that’s playing well, no matter who it is, we let them play it out. In this league they are all good players. Given the opportunity and in certain situations they can all play well.”

Another big reason for Cleveland’s late collapse was the lockdown defense backup guard DeShawn Stevenson applied on James (34 points). While matched up with James in the fourth quarter, Stevenson - whose personal spat with James drew national attention during the teams’ playoff series in 2008 - flustered his foe, holding him to just six points in the fourth quarter on 3-for-7 shooting.

Stevenson’s finest moment came when he stuffed a soaring take to the hole by James with just more than three minutes left to play. James received a technical foul while arguing the call. Butler knocked down the free throw to give Washington a 103-85 lead with 3:22 left.

James hurt his left wrist by banging it on the basket on a late dunk.

“I hit it pretty bad on the rim,” said James, who iced his wrist in the locker room after the game.

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