CLEVELAND -- With plastic ice bags strapped to both knees, LeBron James leaned back in his recliner. As he peeked at the flat-screen TV showing a game in progress, Cleveland's superstar took a deep breath.
It was an exhausting night.
They always are against Washington.
Six months later, James and the Cleveland Cavaliers still have the Wizards' number.
Larry Hughes scored 27 points, James added 26 and Cleveland opened a season its fans and players believe can end with an NBA championship by beating the Wizards 97-94 on Wednesday night.
In last season's playoffs, the Cavaliers and Wizards went down to the final seconds nearly every time they hooked up. Cleveland defeated Washington in a tense six-game opening-round series, winning three games by one point, including Games 5 and 6 in overtime.
This one almost went to OT, too, but Washington's Antawn Jamison missed a 3-pointer that would have tied it with 2.9 seconds left.
"It was a physical game but we knew that it would be coming in," James said. "They want to beat us and we want to beat them. It's become a big rivalry."
Hughes, who missed 46 games last season when he had to undergo two surgeries on a badly broken finger, added nine rebounds and five assists while battling leg cramps. As usual, James stuffed the box score with 10 rebounds and five assists in 40 minutes.
But James was only 2-for-6 from the line and Cavaliers were an abysmal 15-of-30 on free throws.
Gilbert Arenas had just seven points -- none at halftime -- on 2-of-12 shooting but added 11 assists.
"Nobody wants to come out like that on opening night," he said. "This game definitely reminds me of the (Cleveland) series. You'd think we'd learn from our mistakes. We have to learn how to finish these games."
Each time the Cavaliers, who led 84-76 with 6:36 left, appeared on the brink of putting the game away, the Wizards fought back, using a 10-2 run to tie on two free throws by Antonio Daniels.
James then hit a 3-pointer, and this time Arenas, who matched his close friend basket for basket in the playoffs, made his only 3 to even it at 89-all.
Jamison's basket gave the Wizards their first lead of the second half but Hughes soared down the lane for a dunk to tie it. James scored on a scoop to put the Cavaliers ahead by two before Jamison split a pair of free throws.
Cleveland's Anderson Varejao went to the line with a chance to put Cleveland up by three but made only one of two. He was fouled again after Jarvis Hayes missed a 3, but again Cleveland's frizzy-haired forward could only make one attempt.
With the Wizards needing a 3, Arenas inbounded the ball with 6.1 seconds left to Jamison, who instead of giving it back to his teammate, launched a 3-pointer that was long and James grabbed the rebound.
As is almost always the case, James was involved in the night's most spectacular moments.
With Cleveland leading by six in the third, he blocked a runner by Arenas, hustled to the offensive end and drove the baseline to deliver a reverse dunk to make it 65-57.
Then, following a steal, James tipped an alley-oop pass back out to Hughes, who drained a 3-pointer to give Cleveland an 11-point advantage.
The Cavaliers are beginning the season with higher expectations than at any time in their franchise's 36-year history. Because of their strong showing in the playoffs, the Cavaliers have become a trendy preseason pick to contend for a championship.
Before the game, coach Mike Brown expressed concern about his players letting the preseason predictions go to their heads.
"I'm walking into the building and I've got people pounding me saying, 'Let's get a championship,"' he said. "We haven't even played one game yet."
It showed. The Cavaliers got off to a seriously sloppy start, committing eight turnovers in the first quarter and 12 in the first half (they averaged 13.4 last season) and Cleveland went just 10-of-18 from the free-throw line.
Arenas' point total matched his jersey number -- 0 -- in the first half, missing all five field-goal attempts.
- Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert said the club is close to finalizing an agreement to hold some of its training camp and play a preseason game in China next summer.
- Wizards F Darius Songaila will undergo back surgery Thursday to repair a herniated disc. He will be out three months.
- Brown will not give his opinion to James about playing for the U.S. national team next summer. Miami coach Pat Riley said recently he hopes Dwyane Wade will take some time off to rest his body after a busy offseason. "That's LeBron's decision," Brown said. "Maybe if I had a few championships under my belt I could ask him."