CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James didn’t do anything cryptic or dramatic.
He simply changed positions and the Cavaliers shifted into high gear.
James moved to power forward in Cleveland’s “small” starting lineup and nearly recorded a triple-double in three quarters, Kyrie Irving scored 21 points and the Cavs avenged a recent ugly loss to Washington by throttling the Wizards 108-83 on Friday night.
Cleveland was blown out at Washington on Sunday, when James watched from the bench and the Wizards built a 30-point lead.
But with James energized after not playing since Monday, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue utilized a smaller, speedier lineup that didn’t include Kevin Love and the Cavs snapped Washington’s four-game winning streak.
James finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists before resting the entire fourth quarter. More importantly, the Cavs may have found a wrinkle that could help them play against Golden State if the teams meet in the NBA Finals again.
“It was great for us,” said Lue, who rested Love and started Iman Shumpert in James’ usual spot at small forward. “The guys bought into playing that way, that style of basketball. LeBron did a great job just spreading the floor, running and setting picks. And when he gets the rebound and takes it off the glass, it’s tough for teams to get back and get matched.”
Timofey Mozgov scored 14 points, 12 on dunks, for Cleveland, which unveiled a look which Lue plans to use more often in the coming weeks as the Cavs prepare for the playoffs.
“It worked to our favor for sure,” James said of the lineup change, which had him at a position he grew accustomed to in Miami. “Our offense is a lot faster, a little bit more precise with me at the four. I’m going to be setting a lot more transition and half-court pick and rolls. I know I can either get my guy open or if they put two on the ball I’m able to make a play, able to be a quarterback, so it definitely worked really well for us tonight.”
“It’s not a step back,” Wall said as the Wizards dropped to 7-3 since the All-Star break. “It’s just an old-fashioned tail whipping. That’s what they gave us.”
Since their last game, the Cavs had been surrounded by drama.
During a break in Cleveland’s schedule, James raised some eyebrows by making a two-day trip to visit good friend and former teammate Dwyane Wade in South Florida, and the superstar’s two mysterious tweets on Twitter led to speculation the Cavs were having internal issues.
But back on the court, the East’s top team played with purpose and easily took care of a Washington squad they could face in the playoffs.
The Cavs led by 17 at half, pushed their advantage to 21 in the third and led by 30 in the fourth, allowing Lue to keep James off his feet for the last 12 minutes.
With Love out, Lue used the “small ball” look, which he had been toying with trying for weeks. Lue plans to return his regular starting lineup for Saturday’s game against Boston, but he now has another option.
Wall rolled left his ankle while making a layup and sat out the fourth. He expects to play Saturday against Indiana.
The Cavs honored the 40th anniversary of the 1975-76 “Miracle in Richfield” team featuring Austin Carr and Campy Russell during halftime. Coach Bill Fitch’s squad beat Washington in an unforgettable seven-game playoff series.
Wizards: F/G Alan Anderson sat out with a sore left ankle. He’s expected to return for Saturday’s game against Indiana. … G Bradley Beal has been coming off the bench the past 10 games and the switch has balanced Washington’s scoring. Beal is still working his way back from stress fracture in his leg. “He gives us a scoring punch,” coach Randy Wittman said. “It’s just an easier situation with his minutes’ restriction. I don’t want to sit him long periods of time. We’re going to continue to do that. He’s getting back to being aggressive, taking it to the basket.”
Cavaliers: Lue wants to get all his starters some rest before the postseason push, but he will not sit anyone for Saturday’s matchup against Boston. The Celtics beat the Cavs 104-103 on their last visit to Cleveland. “We want to play well against a team that’s been playing extremely well as of late,” James said. “So, we look forward to the challenge.” … Love had only missed one other game this season, sitting out Feb. 6 against New Orleans with a bruised thigh.
Wizards: Host Indiana on Saturday.
Cavaliers: Host Boston on Saturday.