WASHINGTON -- Was it a walk?
LeBron James wants the NBA to take a closer look at what he calls his "crab dribble." The move, James insists, does not constitute traveling.
A referee disagreed Sunday.
James was whistled for taking an extra step while driving for a potential tying layup with 2.3 seconds left, and his Cleveland Cavaliers lost 80-77 to the Eastern Conference-worst Washington Wizards despite wiping out a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
"Bad call," said James, who compiled 30 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. "We all make mistakes, and I think I got the wrong end of the bargain. I watched it 10 times after the game, and it was clearly a good play."
Without raising his voice or getting particularly animated, James dissected the game's key sequence in extensive detail -- even pointing out that he felt he was fouled as he released the shot, which went in.
His biggest beef, though, was with what he considered a misunderstanding of the way he moved to the basket.
"You have your trademark play, and that's one of my plays. It kind of looks like a travel because it's slow, and it's kind of a high-step, but it's a one-two just as fluent as any other one-two in this league. I got the wrong end of it, but I think they need to look at it -- and they need to understand that's not a travel," James said. "It's a perfectly legal play, something I've always done."
Indeed, Washington's Caron Butler -- who scored 19 points and guarded James most of the game, including on that closing play -- remembers that same move, without an official's call, from one of the teams' recent playoff meetings.
"I definitely knew he traveled, but I didn't know they were going to call it," Butler said about what happened Sunday. "That was one of them situations in which a great player made a move, good officiating, and they called the call. And I was like, 'Oh, man, there is a God."'
That was hardly the only contentious moment in a game between teams that faced each other the past three postseasons, with Cleveland winning every series.
There was some trash talk between James and injured Wizards guard DeShawn Stevenson, who was out with a bad back and sat on the sideline in a burgundy velvet jacket and bow tie. There was the homemade sign held by a Wizards fan that showed James with a blue tear on his cheek and "Crybaby" written in place of "Cavaliers" on his white headband and blue shirt. Oh, and there was the ejection of Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, who ran nearly the length of the court to protest an offensive foul call against James with about 6½ minutes left.
The Cavs were down 70-54 early in the fourth quarter, then 71-58 after Butler made one of two technical free throws when Brown was tossed for all his pointing and yelling.
With assistant coach John Kuester running the team after Brown was restrained and led off the court, the Cavs chipped away until James' drive with 1:01 left tied it at 77-all.
"We're not saying we want Mike Brown to get thrown out if we're flat or not making shots. We're not saying that," James said. "But sometimes you need a coach to do something, and that definitely fired us up."
None of his teammates scored more than 13 points, the Cavaliers shot 39 percent for the game and they were held to their lowest point total this season.
At 77-77, Cleveland's Delonte West missed a 3-point attempt, and Dominic McGuire grabbed the rebound while being scratched below the left eye by James, drawing some blood. The Wizards called timeout and set up Antawn Jamison's baseline jumper with 10.5 seconds left
"That just gave us a sigh of relief," Butler said.
Jamison led Washington with 26 points and 13 rebounds, while McGuire had 10 points and 10 rebounds for his first NBA double-double.
Cleveland's next possession ended with James' travel, and Butler added a free throw for the final margin. James fell into the courtside seats while trying a desperation 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
How surprising is this result? The Central Division-leading Cavaliers (27-6) are neck-and-neck with the reigning NBA champion Boston Celtics for the best record in the East, while the Wizards (7-25) aren't even close to climbing out of last place. No other club in the conference has fewer than 12 victories.
And yet when these teams last played, on national TV on Dec. 25, Washington led by seven with a little more than 1½ minutes left before Cleveland closed with an 11-0 run to win.
"I was pulling for the guys to pull it through, to find a way to kind of sneak this one by them like we did the last game," Brown said, "but it didn't happen."
It did not, and the Wizards noted what interim coach Ed Tapscott had written in red on the grease board in their locker room: "REDEMPTION."
- Wizards PG Gilbert Arenas played 2-on-2 for the first time Saturday as he recuperates from a third operation in 1½ years on his left knee. The Wizards won't say when Arenas is expected to begin practicing.
- Cleveland's previous low point total was 85, in its season-opening loss to Boston.