Cavaliers wary of 1-8 Hawks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James bleached over the Cleveland Cavaliers' poor start to the season Friday night with a personal performance for the ages.
Almost nothing could have the same effect on the Atlanta Hawks' dreadful beginning, save for maybe a win Sunday at Cleveland.
James tied a franchise record and scored the second-most points of his storied career with 57 in a 130-122 win over the Washington Wizards. The Cavs, looking for a fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, had lost four straight and five of six before James' eruption.
The Hawks won their season opener Oct. 18, and that's been it. In full rebuild mode, Atlanta has lost eight straight, including a 119-104 loss Friday to the Houston Rockets.
Before anyone declares the Cavs (4-5) fixed after their big night in Washington or the Hawks dead in this game, they should consider what happened last April.
The Hawks stunned the Cavs in consecutive games: April 7 in Cleveland on a night when Atlanta rested all of its starters and still beat James and the Cavs by 14; and April 9 when Atlanta trailed by 26 in the fourth quarter but won by a point in overtime.
The Cavs were trying to nail down the No. 1 seed in the East at the time, and the Hawks helped ruin those plans.
No one is ruling Cleveland out of a top spot in the East just yet, but recent history suggests the Cavs should be wary of the Hawks (1-8).
"We're going to take our lumps but, for us, it's all about progress," Hawks guard Kent Bazemore said.
James became the youngest player ever to score 29,000 points, and just the second player to score at least 10 points in 800 consecutive games. He missed virtually all of the preseason with a sprained left ankle and has been trying to regain his conditioning, but he managed to play 43 minutes against the Wizards and didn't miss any time in the second half.
James scored 19 in the fourth quarter.
"Well, we needed this win so I had no intentions of coming out," James said. "I felt pretty good and I'm almost back to myself. Back to my wind. Anytime I can play a full half, I know I'm right there. So, definitely, it's great to get that win for sure."
Friday marked Cavs coach Tyronn Lue's sixth starting lineup in nine games. The flux of starters was due mostly to injury (starting center Tristan Thompson was the latest to fall with a calf injury that could keep him out a month), but also by a mix-and-match period in which Lue tries to integrate eight new players into the scheme.
Two of those new players -- Derrick Rose and Jae Crowder -- scored season highs Friday with 20 and 17 points, respectively. In Crowder's case, he was a starting forward before losing his spot to Thompson. The Cavs originally thought Crowder could take pressure off James by starting alongside him and taking the toughest defensive matchup.
"We've only had a few games like that, so we'll see as the season goes on," Crowder told cleveland.com.
"But I want it to be that. I can't pinpoint it and say that's (what happened), but in a perfect world that's what I would like, to take a little bit off of him so he can be aggressive the whole game and not have to worry about making that stop and be the guy who can be in the right position at the right time, and let him quarterback the whole thing. (Because) that's what he wants to do, that's when he's at his best, so it's a small glimpse of what it can be."
Updated November 4, 2017