CLEVELAND • John Wall and Bradley Beal recently had a locker room discussion about which game ranked as the Washington Wizards' best of this National Basketball Association (NBA) season.
Wall still placed their Feb 6 overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at the top of his list. He might need to revise his selection after the Wizards' 127-115 victory over the NBA champions in their own building.
Last month's 140-135 loss proved one thing to the Wizards: They could keep up with the Cavaliers. But could they beat them?
On Saturday night, they definitively answered the question.
The Wizards might have earned the Cavs' respect after the Feb 6 defeat. Now they have the full attention of LeBron James and Co. as the play-offs approach.
"You don't want to go into the play-offs knowing you have to face those guys and you had never beaten them in the regular season," Wall said after the teams' third meeting this term. The Wizards had also lost 105-94 in their first match in November.
Washington (45-28) torched Cleveland (47-25) by tying a season high with 40 points in the first quarter and scoring 71 in the first half.
Wall opened the game by making eight straight shots, a career high for most makes without a miss, and finished with 37 points (14 for 21 from the field) and 11 assists. Beal added 27 points and six assists.
The Cavaliers, who possess the second-worst defensive rating in the NBA since the All-Star break, allowed the Wizards to shoot 59.8 per cent from the field. The defending champions have 10 games left to sort their woes out before the play-offs start.
Said James: "We just got to figure it out and continue to see what fits our group, see what fits our line-up, see what fits our team as a whole and what's going to give us the best shot to win each and every game. Like I said, you can't base last year on this year."
He played with a corneal abrasion in his right eye and temporarily tried wearing goggles that he angrily tossed after missing a shot. He finished with 24 points.
Kyrie Irving added 23 points and has scored at least 20 in 21 consecutive games.
Kevin Love contributed 17 points and seven rebounds.
Cleveland's lead over Boston for home court advantage in the Eastern Conference has whittled away to half a game. The Cavs have 10 games left.
The Wizards now trail the Boston Celtics by two games and the Cavaliers by 21/2 for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Should the Celtics overtake the Cavs, then Cleveland and Washington could have a real chance of playing in the conference semi-finals.
"We've shown now that we can win here," Beal said. "With the crowd and all their guys playing...
"They respected us from last game, and definitely (now with) this game. We really wanted this game."
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS