WASHINGTON -- For the first time all season, the Washington Wizards used a lineup resembling the one they envisioned when training camp opened last fall.
The result: The team leading the league in losses beat the team leading the league in wins.
In the closest thing they'll have to a playoff game this year, Gilbert Arenas and the Wizards fed off a sellout crowd Thursday night and ended the franchise-record 13-game winning streak of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Washington recovered after blowing a 14-point second-half lead and held on for a 109-101 victory.
"It was a very confidence-inspiring win for us," Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said. "We hope that this'll give people a bit of a preview of what we will be next year. It's what we thought we would be this year."
Arenas, playing his second game of the season in his latest attempt to return from knee surgery, had 11 points on 3-for-11 shooting with 10 assists and six rebounds in 33 minutes.
Brendan Haywood, also playing his second game of the season and making his first start after recovering from a major wrist injury, added 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Wizards also received the usual steady contributions from Caron Butler (25 points) and Antawn Jamison (19) and a surprising 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting from Darius Songaila as they snapped a three-game losing streak.
MVP candidate James scored 22 of his 31 points in the second half and finished with six assists and nine rebounds for the Cavaliers, but -- how's this for a statistical oddity -- he was responsible for all five of his team's turnovers until Daniel Gibson traveled in the final minute of the third quarter. James finished with six turnovers -- one fewer than the Wizards -- and had a 3-pointer stuffed in his face by Butler with in the final half-minute.
"It's still a meaningless win toward the record," said Arenas, who said he was winded but otherwise fine in his first game since his season debut on Saturday. "But for us, it's a real win. Because they're trying to be the best. He's trying to win an MVP award, so they had everything to lose, and we had everything to gain."
Last year at this time, the Wizards and Cavaliers were headed toward a first-round playoff series that would include subplots aplenty, including a back-and-forth between James and Washington guard DeShawn Stevenson that eventually drew rappers Jay-Z and Soulja Boy into the fray. Cleveland won the series in six games, with Arenas missing the last two after more trouble with his knee.
Now the Cavaliers are the best team in the East; the Wizards are the worst. Washington did manage to beat Cleveland in January when James was called for traveling -- he claimed it was a legal "crab dribble" -- with 2.3 seconds remaining.
"Records never matter when you play the Wizards," James said. "It doesn't matter if you're in first place or who is not in first place. It's always going to be like that every time we play them."
The Wizards led by 68-54 midway through the third quarter and 80-70 going into the fourth, but the Cavaliers opened the final period with a 16-6 run with James on the bench. The Wizards answered with an 11-3 spurt, including a three-point play and a drive to the basket by Songaila and a short jumper from Arenas.
James helped trim the lead to four with a 3-pointer and a free throw, but Nick Young's explosive drive to the basket with 1:05 to play put the Wizards ahead 104-98. The crowd roared as Washington -- a team that has won only 18 games -- wrapped up its second win over Cleveland this season.
"It's just a confidence-booster to let us know that we're still there," Arenas said, "and we just need to be healthy."
There did appear to be at least one bit of gamesmanship by James, when he happened to notice some blood on his knee just as Arenas had the ball and was about to attempt a free throw with 1:47 left. Arenas smiled, but he also missed the free throw when play resumed. "It's always something, right?" Arenas said. ... As expected, James was booed early and often. "I'm hated in all 30 cities," James said. "Uh, 29. They love me in Cleveland. They hate me everyplace else. Uh, I forgot about New York. They love me there, too." ... Cavaliers coach Mike Brown is happy he won't see the Wizards in the postseason this year. "Jay-Z versus Soulja Boy, the hard fouls, the crab dribble -- I'm not going to miss any of that," the coach said. .. The Wizards used their 19th starting lineup of the season. ... Washington G Javaris Crittenton missed the game with back spasms, one night after grabbing a career-high 11 rebounds in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. ... James' appearance on "60 Minutes" on Sunday was the highest rated segment of the CBS newsmagazine. It drew a 10.7 rating (17,354,000 viewers), a rating 26 percent higher than the rest of the show (8.5 rating), according to Nielsen Media Research.
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