CLEVELAND (AP) - The Cavaliers were supposed to walk all over the depleted Wizards. Instead, LeBron James injured his ankle, and Cleveland gingerly stepped past Washington in Game 1.
James stayed in the game despite a sprain to score 23 points and Larry Hughes had 27 Sunday, lifting the Cavaliers to a 97-82 win in the opener of this Eastern Conference series.
James rolled his left ankle in the third quarter but refused to come out, adding nine rebounds and seven assists in 44 minutes.
The Cavs figured to blow through their second straight first-round matchup with the Wizards, who were missing All-Stars Gilbert Arenas (knee surgery) and Caron Butler (broken hand).
However, Antawn Jamison scored 28 points and Jarvis Hayes 18 for Washington, which was still within 10 points with more than seven minutes remaining.
That's when the Cavs moved their offensive attack inside and fed 7-foot-3 center Zydrunas Ilgaukas, who scored seven straight points to help Cleveland push its lead to 89-74 with five minutes left.
Ilgauskas, who was bothered by a sore ankle when the Cavs beat the Wizards in a tight six-game series a year ago, scored 11 of his 16 points in the fourth.
James appeared as if his second postseason as a pro might be in jeopardy when he crumpled to the floor with 8:03 left in the third. On a drive to the basket, James rose for floater from about 10
feet. At about the same time the ball went in, James came down on Etan Thomas' right foot, twisting his ankle. The injury looked severe and James spent nearly a minute on the floor staring at the ceiling. James popped up, though, and walked to the bench with hardly a limp.
The Cavaliers responded to their superstar's scary moment with an 11-2 run and appeared ready to bury the Wizards. But Washington hung tough and a 3-pointer by Antonio Daniels with 1.2 seconds left
closed it to 74-67 with 12 minutes to go.
James was little more than a decoy the rest of the way. He made only two hard drives to the basket, deferring to Hughes and Ilgauskas to make sure the Cavs took care of business. During
timeouts James used a large rubber band to keep his ankle loose. It's sure to be sore Monday, but he'll have time to rest, with Game 2 of the best-of-seven series not until Wednesday.
The Cavaliers seemed to catch a break in getting the banged-up Wizards as their opponent. If they had lost their regular-season finale and finished with the No. 5 seed and not the No. 2, the Cavs
would be playing the defending champion Miami Heat.
But apparently the Wizards didn't get the memo about this series being so one-sided.
With Jamison handling the bulk of the scoring as expected, and Washington's frontline crashing the boards on every shot, the Wizards stayed close.
Jamison's free throw - his 19th point - trimmed a 10-point deficit to four, but Hughes drained a 3-pointer at the horn to give Cleveland a 48-41 halftime lead.
James raised some eyebrows before the game when he was asked about owner Dan Gilbert's assertion that anything short of making the Eastern Conference finals would be a failure for the Cavs.
Gilbert said, "Organizations and people are like trees - you're either growing or dying. ... To call the season a success in growth, you want to see yourself up one notch." Does James feel the same sense of urgency?
"No," he said. "He (Gilbert) has his own opinion. I play for my teammates. We go out there and we work hard and the coaching staff tries to put us in the best position to win ballgames. You can't go and contemplate on what other people say." Even the owner?
"Yeah," he said.
Notes: Arenas limped into the Cavaliers' locker room before the game, dishing out his usual trash talk. "He's crazy," James said. "But he's fun. He loves to play and I know he's devastated not being a part of this postseason." ... Jamison added 14 rebounds.
Hayes made his playoff debut for Washington. The fourth-year pro had missed the Wizards' previous two postseasons with knee injuries. ... The Cavs are 42-11, including playoff games, at home since March 3, 2006.
1st 2nd 3rd 4th Final
Wizards: 20 41 67 82 82
Cavaliers: 27 48 74 97 97