LeBron James scored 57 points on the Wizards, and oh did the Cavaliers need it


James carried Cleveland to a win and snapped that pesky four-game losing streak.


Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It was the LeBron James that you have nightmares about. Every iteration of LeBron James is terrifying, but Friday’s was him on his worst behavior. Against the Washington Wizards, and riding a four-game losing streak, James scored 57 points — second most of his career, and the most he has ever put up in a Cleveland uniform.

“He still has it,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said afterwards, something that should win an award for Understatement of the Night.

James’ full line was horror-movie fuel: 57 points on 23-of-34 shooting, 11 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, two blocks, and only three turnovers. It’s the 11th time he has surpassed the 50-point plateau.

You could see this James emerge slowly over the game: He scored 24 points in the first half within the normal confines of the offense. By the start of the fourth quarter, though, the offense turned into him in a pick-and-roll with Dwyane Wade. As the quarter progressed, even that went to the wayside. It was just James, the ball, and him trying to score. James took 12 of the team’s final 14 shots. That’s normally not the way to build an efficient offense, but LeBron James is not normal.

LeBron did this because Cleveland needed it badly

The Cavaliers are now 4-5, and coming into this game, they had lost five of their last six. And it wasn’t just losses — it was objectively garbage basketball with effortless defense and problematic lineups. (We’ll come back to this later.)

This was a nationally televised game, and the Wizards were talking shit before it started. James had to be this LeBron in this game, monstrous enough that Jay Z would throw his name into a feature verse for Kanye West. He was.

It’s not like James had been bad this season, either. He came into this game averaging 25.6 points on 59 percent shooting with 7.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists. Are you kidding? Without the appropriate context of “that’s LeBron James, probably the second greatest basketball player of all time,” we’d be freaking out about someone averaging those numbers.

On Friday, James had to be even better, and so he was.

The Cavaliers aren’t out of the woods — not at all

James had the second best scoring game of his career and Washington still hung around until the final minute. The Wizards are good, mind you, but that’s not acceptable. They still gave up 122 points defensively, and they can’t always drop 130 on the other end. This defense is extremely bad, like terribly so, and there’s still no clear fix in sight.

Kevin Love played fewer minutes on Friday, just 27, while Jae Crowder’s 34 were the second most in the nine games he has played in Cleveland so far. The Cavaliers experimented with Ante Zizic, threw Channing Frye out there for a while (not a defensive stopper but a different look than their previous rotation), and limited Dwyane Wade to just 14. But there still aren’t enough good defenders in burgandy-and-gold. The eventual solution may need to come thanks to a trade of the Nets’ No. 1 pick.

We’ll see about all that. For now, this was a gut-check win, and the Cavaliers can thank LeBron James for abolishing any idea that Cleveland’s losing streak would continue. He’s still a dude who can do that.