Never was the impact of the loss of a superstar move evident than in the Cavaliers' 99-94 victory over the Wizards on Friday night.
James had a poor shooting game, but he attacked the basket down the stretch and scored 14 of his 25 points in the final period to help the Cavaliers stay tied with Chicago for second place in the Central Division.
With Cleveland holding a two-point lead with less than three minutes to play, James made a jumper and drove for a one-handed dunk to increase the lead to six. He also made six of seven free throws in the fourth quarter.
"I definitely didn't have one of my best games offensively," said James, who went 7-for-23 from the field and had six rebounds and five assists. "But I tried to attack late in the game, and guys just came and stepped up."
Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 18 points and eight rebounds for the Cavaliers, who remained inconsistent as they jockey for playoff seeding. Cleveland has alternated wins and losses over its last 10 games.
"It was a gut-check game for us," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "I thought we were flat in the first half. They got what they wanted on the offensive end in the first half. I thought we stepped it up a notch in the second half."
For the Wizards, inconsistency would be an improvement. Right now, they just need to prove they can win without their two All-Stars.
Leading scorer Arenas had surgery Thursday on the knee he injured in the first quarter of Wednesday's loss to Charlotte, and heart-and-soul leader Caron Butler broke a bone in his hand Sunday against Milwaukee. Neither will return unless the team advances deep into the postseason.
The Wizards would have clinched a playoff berth with a win, and for much of the game they did their best to lift some of the doom and gloom has surrounded them since Arenas' injury. They led by 10 in the third quarter, but they lost their third straight and fell 2 1/2 games behind the Miami Heat for the top spot in the Southeast Division.
"It is tough," guard DeShawn Stevenson said. "Because for the first 74 games we had him there for the fourth quarter, so now we have to rely on other people. This was our first game without Gilbert, and we just have to be more aggressive toward the end."
Without Arenas, coach Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense looked more like a true Princeton offense, with the Wizards attempting backdoor cuts in an organized share-the-ball attack. Point guard Daniels piled up the assists, and Jamison became the go-to guy -- a role he hasn't played regularly since his days at Golden State -- but Arenas wasn't there to make the clutch plays when it mattered most.
"We competed at a high level," Jordan said. "We held LeBron to a low field goal percentage, and we scored 99 points. Those are positives, but we want to win. We don't want to just have good numbers - we want to win."
James had a quiet first half, making only three of 10 shots with one rebound. He also had a one-handed driving dunk attempt blocked by Thomas. Jamison seven consecutive points in a 9-0 run that gave the Wizards a 53-45 lead at the break.
But the Cavaliers rallied in the third quarter with their inside game. Ilgauskas had a pair of dunks and Drew Gooden had one in an 11-0 run that overcame the 10-point deficit.
The Cavaliers also took care of the ball after a sloppy first half. They committed only two of their 12 turnovers after halftime. Washington finished with 23 turnovers.
- James passed the 2,000-point mark for the season. He and Arenas are the only players with a current streak of 2,000 in three consecutive seasons.
- James also got his 2,000th career assist. He is the second fastest player to reach 8,000 points, 2,000 rebounds and 2,000 assists. He did it in 311 games; Oscar Robertson did it in 269.
- Arenas wasn't at the arena on the day after his surgery, but his nba.com blog goes on. He wrote that the worst thing about getting injured in Wednesday's game was that he couldn't play video games online when he got home because of a bad Internet connection.
- Wizards F Calvin Booth was out with a sore left knee.
- Stevenson is the lone Wizards player to have played in every game this season.