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Cavaliers own best record in NBA after topping Wizards 94-84 to open season 

BY EDDIE DILWORTH 
             STAFF


That sound you hear is a collective exhale from the city of Cleveland. 

Whew.

Tuesday night in front of a sold-out Quicken Loans Arena, the Cleveland Cavaliers skyrocketed to the best record in the NBA with a 94-84 win over the Washington Wizards. Ok, it was the regular season opener, and the Cavaliers have merely posted a 1-0 record, but a loss on opening night would have had Cavs followers groaning with despair instead of sighing with relief.

Had Cleveland lost the opener to a Wizards team (0-1) missing its two best players, John Wall and Nene, lines may have formed at the 480 bridge. Not to mention the fact that the Wizards aren't projected to sniff the NBA playoffs this season, the Cavs needed to start the season on a positive note.

"For a home opener, first game, I thought our guys played pretty well," Cavs head coach Byron Scott said. "The one thing that we talked about all preseason long was defending; they shoot 36 precent for the game, so we did a hell of a job of defending."

The Cavaliers had several standouts on the evening that could have been awarded player of the game honors. Kyrie Irving led Cleveland with 29 points and six rebounds. Anderson Varejao was truly a "Wild Thing" as he nearly posted a triple-double with nine points, 23 rebounds and a career-high nine assists.

Cleveland struggled to score at times throughout the evening and may not have escaped defeat without 17 huge points from rookie Dion Waiters. Add Tristan Thompson's 12 points, 10 rebounds and career-high five assists, and the Cavs were able to outlast the undermanned Wizards.

"Tristan had one of those games tonight where he did a little bit of everything," Scott said. "He's growing as well. It's good to see our young guys play as good as they did. It's great to have two All-Star performances with Kyrie and Andy, and then you throw in Alonzo Gee on the defensive end.

"I thought he (Gee) was fantastic as well…Dion is starting to understand what we're doing. I thought he did a good job."

The Cavs were cruising heading into the fourth quarter after leading much of the contest by double-digits. Cleveland held a 74-62 lead after three quarters, but the Wizards refused to lay down. Washington opened the fourth quarter with a 14-0 run, capped by a Jannero Pargo 3-pointer. Pargo's splash from beyond the arc gave Washington a 76-74 lead with 8:11 to play, and the once raucous crowd had become restless.

Cleveland was struggling to score when Waiters sank a huge 3-pointer to stop the bleeding and give the Cavs a 77-76 lead with 7:00 remaining in the contest. The Cavs tried to pull away over the next few minutes, but an Earl Barron layup with 2:15 to play brought Washington within an 86-82 deficit.

After relinquishing their large lead, it was time for the Cavs to put their inferior opponent away. With 2:00 to play and an 86-82 lead, the Cavs pulled away behind seven-straight Tristan Thompson points on three dunks and a free throw. Thompson's spurt helped the Cavs close the game on an 8-2 run as the Wizards mustered only two points in the final two minutes.

"It was great, especially when we were down and came back," Waiters said. "It was awesome. The fans definitely helped hype us up even more tonight."

Varejao took solace in the waning moments.

"It was good," Varejao said. "For being a team that has a lot of new guys, it was good for us. They got back in the game, but we kept ourselves in the game too. We played hard defensively and moved the ball on offense; that's why we won the game."

Scott exhaled because there was chemistry in the backcourt between Irving and Waiters. When Waiters was drafted, questions arose about having two players in the same backcourt that like the ball in their hands. On several occasions, Waiters played point guard while Irving played off the ball, a move that seemed to take pressure off Irving as a facilitator. It also didn't hurt Irving's scoring.

"I felt like we were playing off each other," Irving said on running with Waiters. "Our defense definitely turned into offense, which worked well for us. We kept playing off each other, making plays and setting up our teammates."

Cavs fans exhaled because Waiters had a great night in his NBA regular season debut. Many were stunned when the Cavs selected Waiters No. 4 overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, but Waiters was the standout rookie on the evening as he bested Wizards rookie guard and No. 3 overall pick Bradley Beal.

Beal finished the night with eight points, three rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes. Wizards guard Jordan Crawford led Washington with 11 points off the bench.

Washington was no match for Cleveland without Wall and Nene. Wall was sidelined with a stress injury to his left patella. Nene missed the game after suffering plantar fasciitis in his left foot.

Offensively, Cleveland got off to a a good start. The Cavs shot 49 percent from the field in the first half and entered halftime with a 50-39 lead. Irving led the way 14 first half points.

Defensively, the Cavs were stout throughout. Cleveland held Washington to 33 percent shooting in the first half and 35 percent for the game. The Cavs also outrebounded Washington 54-39.

Cavs followers and all those affiliated with the team exhaled Tuesday night.

"That's the one thing we talked about was that we have a team coming in here that we feel we can beat," Scott said. "And then we have another tough game on Friday, but it (win) definitely gives us some confidence."

The Cavs host the Chicago Bulls on Friday.

edilworth@lakecounty-sentinel.com or follow Eddie onTwitter @EDilworth or Check out our Cavaliers fan pageTaitville

POSTED 10/30/2012 23:49

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