WASHINGTON - Same old story, different town.
The Cavaliers' road woes continued to smart on Wednesday night, as even a career-best performance from LeBron James couldn't break their extended slump away from home. Loose defense in the early going put them in a hole and without workhorse Carlos Boozer, they didn't have the strength to overcome it.
As a result, a feisty comeback bid failed and the Washington Wizards held on to a 106-95 win in front of 19,705 fans at the MCI Center. It marked the Cavaliers' 28th consecutive road loss.
James scored a career-high 28 points to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds. He had one of his best shooting nights of the season, going 10-for-18 from the floor with a pair of 3-pointers and two dunks sure to make the highlight shows.
But while it was an inspiring performance, it wasn't a cure-all. Without Boozer, who is out with a sprained right ankle suffered Tuesday night, the Cavaliers (4-8) were manhandled around the basket.
Booozer, a graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School, did not travel with the team and is listed as day-to-day.
After falling behind by as many as 19 points during the first half, the visitors rallied to make it a game down the stretch. But the inability to get it done in the middle made victory impossible. The Wizards (5-6) bulled their way to 23 offensive rebounds and pounded the Cavaliers for 54 points in the paint.
"When you get down like that it is an uphill battle," Cavaliers coach Paul Silas said. "It is just too much to ask when you're missing one of your main guys."
Washington forwards Etan Thomas and Kwame Brown smelled the blood. Even with Chris Mihm, who had 13 points and 12 rebounds, filling in admirably, the absence of Boozer's brute strength was glaring.
Brown scored 15 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, six of them offensive. And the Cavaliers had no answer for Thomas, who scored a career-high 18 points with 10 rebounds, seven off them coming off his own team's misses.
Add the play of guards Gilbert Arenas (25 points) and Larry Hughes (22), who combined to go 7-of-14 from 3-point range, and it was a deadly inside-out combination.
On seven different occasions, the Wizards muscled to the hole to get a basket and a foul. On 12 different occasions, the Wizards got a basket after their own miss. The one that hurt the Cavaliers the most came with 5:45 left, when Washington guard Juan Dixon nailed a 3-pointer to extend the lead from four points to seven, and the visitors never got closer.
A 20-3 Washington run to close the first quarter gave the home team all the cushion they'd need. The Cavaliers went on a 15-3 run in the second quarter to cut it to five, at 54-49, at the half. And when James made a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers briefly cut the lead to two points.
But Thomas was too tough in the closing stretch. It frustrated the Cavaliers, especially Ira Newble, who was hit with a technical foul for throwing the ball at Thomas after the two got into a scrum going for a rebound.
"Etan is the heart and soul of what we do," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. "We've kind of taken his personality, his grit and determination."
Kevin Ollie scored a season-high 12 points off the bench, as Silas decided to sit Ricky Davis for the final 15 minutes of the game. The coach said he "wanted to take a look at some other guys."
Davis, who hit his first five shots and scored 13 points, was clearly upset with the decision.
"Of course I want to play; I want to win," he said. "You'll have to ask Coach; I don't know."
The combination of it all left James down, even after his performance.
"We had to work so hard to try to break even, we couldn't get over the hump," James said. "We need one on the road, that's all I can say."
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