The Cleveland Cavaliers were a shocking 3-5 heading into Friday night’s marquee matchup with the Washington Wizards. Prior to tipoff, the Wizards were talking a big game, too, with John Wall claiming that the Cavaliers intentionally tanked for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference last season so they could avoid playing the Wizards in round two. Whether Wall’s comments fueled James on Friday night is something we’ll never know, but LeBron put the Cavaliers on his back with an incredible 57-point performance leading to a huge win in Washington, and that’s a fact.
The Cavaliers had been taking heat from every direction through the first several weeks of the 2017-18 NBA season, some of which was deserved. They just haven’t played well, particularly on defense, and while they’ve been hit with the injury bug as bad as any other team in the NBA, when you’ve got LeBron James in a weak Eastern Conference, playing below .500 is unacceptable. To the Cavaliers’ credit, they’ve taken a lot of responsibility for their poor play. Ty Lue has been willing to tinker with his rotation. LeBron James has been willing to handle the ball more. They’re trying.
Despite Cleveland’s early-season struggles, everyone knew a game like this was coming. It was inevitable. You can only keep LeBron down for so long, and James responded to all the criticism and all the noise with one of the best performances of his Hall-of-Fame career.