for this game

James, Hughes help Cavs work past Wizards

Apr 22, 2007 - 9:10 PM CLEVELAND (Ticker) -- About the only way the injury-riddled Washington Wizards can stay in their Eastern Conference first-round series is if Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James also gets hurt - which almost happened.

With James playing through an ankle injury and Larry Hughes emerging as a legitimate second option, the Cavaliers got past the Wizards, 97-82, in the series opener.

Hughes had 27 points and seven rebounds and James added 23, nine and seven assists for the second-seeded Cavaliers, who never trailed after the first minute but never really felt comfortable until the closing moments. They are expected to win this series but may have to work harder than they thought.

"We're not going to go out there and jump on them and have them down 20 in the first 15 minutes of the ballgame," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "We don't expect to go out and have this game blown open in the second quarter."

"Our effort was great. Our intent was great," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. "We just couldn't make plays. We just didn't get a bounce."

The seventh-seeded Wizards actually had the best record in the Eastern Conference midway through the season but have been undone by late-season injuries to All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. Washington stumbled into the postseason with eight losses in its last 10 games.

That has taken most of the luster off this series, a rematch of last year's exciting first-round affair in which three games were decided by one point.

Expecting an easy time, the crowd at Quicken Loans Arena was remarkably sedate through most of the first half as the Cavaliers grabbed an early lead and kept the undermanned Wizards at length.

But an audible hush came over the entire building early in the third quarter, when James was fouled - and did not get up right away. Hit by Etan Thomas on a driving layup, James remained on the floor for about a minute.

"It's definitely going to hurt a lot (Monday)," James said. "This isn't my first time having an ankle sprain or stepping on someone's foot. When I wake up (Monday), it's definitely going to hurt. The best thing about it is that we don't play until Wednesday, so I get enough time to get a little bit of rest and see how it feels."

"It was something that made everyone's heart jump a little bit because you don't want to see that happen to any of your guys, let alone LeBron," Brown said. "But these next 24 hours are going to be big for us. He obviously has a left ankle sprain and will be listed as day-to-day."

James eventually got up but clearly was favoring his ankle for a while. He remained in the game and did not appeared slowed by the injury, with his three-point play giving Cleveland a 70-58 lead with 3:28 remaining.

"I had no intention of not coming back," James said.

"He's tough," Hughes said. "I expected him to get up and he got up and never missed a step. He's got big ankles."

The Wizards closed to 74-67 entering the final period, but Hughes had a jumper, a steal and four free throws in the next three-plus minutes as the Cavaliers rebuilt the advantage to 83-70.

"(Hughes) did a great job offensively of getting into the teeth of the defense and knocking down jumpers," Wizards forward Antawn Jamison said. "We couldn't call any plays because he knows everything. He did a great in all aspects of the game."

A former Wizard who signed with the Cavs two summers ago, Hughes' 2006 postseason did not go well. He averaged just 11.1 points and missed four games due to the death of his brother. Cleveland also played better without him in the lineup.

"It's a new day," Hughes said. "A lot of things went on last year." "It's good to have Larry for a year and be able to see him go into the playoffs with some rhythm," Brown said. "Last year was tough on him and all of us."

The Cavs got help from Zydrunas Ilgauskas (16 points, eight rebounds) and Drew Gooden (10 points). They held a 46-40 advantage in rebounds and ahot 39 free throws, making 30.

Jamison had 28 points and 14 boards and Jarvis Hayes added 18 points for the Wizards, who shot just under 37 percent (29-of-79) from the field. They will try again Wednesday in Game Two.

"We just couldn't put the ball in the basket as often as we needed to," Jordan said. "We just couldn't finish plays."

With Arenas and Butler only able to watch, the Wizards were expected to rely heavily on Jamison, which is just what they did. The sleek forward scored 19 points in the first half to help Washington hang around.

James scored nine points in the first quarter as the Cavaliers opened a 27-20 lead but was scoreless in the second period, when Hughes took over with 10 points.

The Wizards still were within four points near the end of the half. But Hayes rushed a shot that allowed Hughes to cash in with a transition 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 48-41 lead.


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