LeBron James leads Cleveland Cavaliers' small lineup to 108-83 victory

By The Sports Xchange  |  March 5, 2016 at 12:54 AM
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CLEVELAND -- LeBron James was moving all across the floor on Friday night. He began his evening playing in the post and ended it dancing outside the huddle during a late-game timeout.

In between, the Cleveland Cavaliers' new-look, small-ball lineup was a smashing success.

James had 19 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists while making his first start at power forward and Kyrie Irving had 21 points and eight assists in the Cavaliers' 108-83 victory over the Washington Wizards on Friday night.

The Cavs shuffled their lineup again in what could be a significant step toward the postseason.

Iman Shumpert started in place of Kevin Love, who was resting. Love will return to his familiar power forward spot Saturday, coach Tyronn Lue said, but the Cavs might have unlocked a lethal postseason lineup while experimenting.

"I just think when we play small and we're able to switch a lot of things (defensively) and we're able to get the ball up and spread the floor, it makes us a lot more lethal," Lue said. "With the team we have constructed, we can play big, we can play small."

The Cavs have used this lineup to close games before, but never to start.

The blitzed the Wizards from the tip, forcing 16 turnovers (including nine steals) while holding Washington to 40 percent shooting from the field.

The Cavs led by 20 at the half and extended it to as many as 30 in the fourth quarter, a complete reversal from last Sunday in Washington when the Wizards led the Cavs by 30 in the fourth.

"We got off to such a sloppy start," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "They're too good a team to give them the advantages we did in the first quarter."

John Wall had 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists before sitting out the fourth quarter. Wall jammed an ankle on a drive to the basket in the third quarter, but he expects to play Saturday at the Indiana Pacers.

"I was a little bit worried," Wall said. "It was tough, but I'll get some treatment on the plane and make sure I'm all right. If the game was a little closer and if we didn't have the back-to-back, I probably would have played the whole second half."

Markieff Morris had 13 points and five assists and Bradley Beal scored 11 points off the bench for the Wizards, who had their four-game winning streak snapped.

Timofey Mozgov had 14 points and five rebounds and Matthew Dellavedova scored 12 points off the bench for the Cavs.

James was active across the floor in his first game starting in the post -- although he still spent much of his time around the perimeter in the Cavs' wide-open attack. He gave up some of his playmaking ability to set screens for Irving, who finished 7 of 18 from the field and was credited with three of the Cavs' nine steals despite sitting out the fourth quarter.

James has long resisted a move to full-time power forward and reiterated again just a couple of weeks ago that he views himself as a wing player.

However, it was about this time last season he began shifting more into the post in preparation of a playoff run. It appears to be happening again.

"Our offense is a lot faster, a little bit more precise with me at the four," James said. "I don't see a downfall to it. If you're in shape, you should be fine with it."

The Wizards' streak of six straight games scoring at least 100 points ended, along with their surge up the standings. They were closing in on the eighth seed after exiting the All-Star break three games out of the final spot but slipped to 10th in the East, a half-game behind idle Chicago.

"It's not a step back," Wall said. "It's just an old-fashioned tail whipping. That's what they gave us."

NOTES: Washington G Bradley Beal came off the bench for the 10th time since returning from a leg injury, and that role isn't changing anytime soon. "It's just an easier situation with his minutes restriction," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "I don't want to sit him long periods of time. We're going to continue to do that. He's getting back to being aggressive, taking it to the basket." ... The Wizards will play 13 of their final 22 games on the road. ... The Cavs honored their 1975-76 "Miracle of Richfield" team at halftime Friday. That Cavs team stunned the league with an improbable division title and an upset of the Washington Bullets in the first round before falling to the Boston Celtics in the conference finals. ... Hip hop fans can thank F LeBron James for Kendrick Lamar's new album, which he dropped late Thursday night after James urged him to do so following his performance at the Grammy Awards. Anthony Tiffith, chief executive of Lamar's label, confirmed in a tweet the album was released thanks to James' request.

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