- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2017

The Washington Wizards stressed the need for better defense entering Friday’s matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers. After Wednesday’s loss to Phoenix, Bradley Beal said the Wizards weren’t defending a soul.

They responded by giving up a season-high in points. The Cavs smacked the Wizards, 130-122, at Capital One Arena — highlighted with a 57-point performance from LeBron James. It was the 11th time James finished with more than 50 points in a game — and they were the most points scored in the District since Tracy McGrady’s 62 in 2004.

“Every shot that I [took] felt like it was going in,” James said.

Three points from Friday night:

James wreaks havoc

John Wall and Bradley Beal were confident Friday, with Wall declaring on ESPN’s “The Jump” that James and the Cavaliers tanked games down the stretch of last season to avoid the No.1 seed and face the Wizards in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Beal added he felt like the Wizards were the best team in the East this year. 

It was unclear if James got wind of those comments, but he was dominant from the start. The Wizards practically tried everything to stop James — switching on the pick-and-roll, sending double teams and even leaving Wall to try and defend him one-on-one.

None of it worked. 

James routinely found himself backing down Wall in the post. The Wizards were often late to provide additional help, and James sunk fadeaway after fadeaway.

James was 23-of-34 from the field — and only two of his makes were 3-pointers. He attempted just four 3’s total.

“We obviously witnessed one of the best players to play the game,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “He still has it, if you guys didn’t know that. … Very rarely do you see a guy hit 10 straight heat check shots. It seemed like every shot it was contested. A lot of them were mid range.”

The Cavaliers shot 56 percent against the Wizards.

Brooks said the Wizards were forced to pick their poison because of James‘ passing ability. James also had 11 rebounds and seven assists.

Beal, though, said they could have done a better job of doubling him earlier, getting

“We’ve got to adjust a little bit better on the fly as a team on the floor,” Beal said.

Did Beal think James heard Wall’s pre-game comments?

“Probably,” Beal said. “At the end of the day, I still stand on what I say and my teammates. I believe in us. I’m confident in us. We’re going to compete with the best of them. He had an amazing night. At the same time, we better respect what he does and brings to the game.

“Hopefully down the line, we’ll see him again. Hopefully In a seven-game series, I don’t know if he can do that throughout. We’ll run him into the ground if we do that.”

First quarter barrage

As remarkable as James‘ was, the Wizards‘ first quarter defense was a mess. They allowed 42 points, including 13 from point guard Derrick Rose.

Cleveland signed Rose to the veteran minimum in the offseason, but the Wizards did a poor job at containing at the former 2011 MVP. Rose, who has had various knee injuries, bursted to the lane and finished the quarter 6-of-7.

The Wizards also went three quarters in Wednesday’s loss to Phoenix where they gave up at least 35 points.

“That’s unacceptable, for sure,” Beal said. We have to come back in Toronto with a better mindset to getting off to a good start and keeping teams to under 20 points a quarter.”

Morris returns

Forward Markieff Morris returned to the starting lineup Friday and played his first game since undergoing sports hernia surgery on Sept. 22.

Before the game, Brooks said he expected Morris to play around 15 minutes; He played 16.

“I felt cool,” Morris said. “I was just slow rolling right now, just trying to get back into a groove.”

Morris had just two points and went 1-of-6 from the field. Morris was involved on the Wizards‘ first four positions, which he said was the result of the Cavaliers switching rather than the game plan. On the first play, Cleveland guard J.R. Smith stripped the ball and then on the next play, he had a blocked alley oop attempt.

He scored on the third possession, driving past Jae Crowder. Morris said he was trying to find his rhythm and get back into basketball shape. He expects a minutes restriction for the time being.

“Conditioning is the most which is being in great shape so that you do not get those little nagging injuries,” Morris said. “That is the rest why I am playing 16 minutes now because I do not fl like I am in that good of a shape to be playing that long.”

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