CLEVELAND (AP) -In the span of a few hours, the Washington Wizards lost their leading scorer, their on-court leader and maybe their season.
Taking the court only hours after star guard Gilbert Arenas was suspended indefinitely by pitiless NBA commissioner David Stern, the Wizards were beaten 121-98 by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night, a possible preview of darker days ahead for Washington.
``It's like a black cloud over us,' guard DeShawn Stevenson said. ``Hit us over the head again and we might break.'
LeBron James piled up 23 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in just three quarters, and Shaquille O'Neal added 17 points in 17 minutes as the Cavaliers took no mercy on the Wizards and posted a season-high for points to win for the 13th time in 15 games.
Washington ended a long, draining day with a lopsided loss.
The Wizards played for the first time this season without Arenas. He was suspended by Stern, who in a scathing statement called the gregarious guard's recent behavior ``not currently fit to take the court.' Stern handed down his stiff sentence on Arenas while the three-time All-Star is being investigated by federal and local authorities after admittedly bringing unloaded guns to Washington's locker room.
Antawn Jamison scored 26 points and Randy Foye 18 for the Wizards. Earl Boykins started for Arenas, whose 22.6 points per game, sweet stroke, leadership and jovial personality will be missed.
Arenas' problems began after an alleged dispute over card-playing gambling debts and a heated discussion in the locker room with teammate Javaris Crittenton. The New York Post reported that the two drew weapons on each other. Arenas said in a statement that he took unloaded guns from his locker in a ``misguided effort to play a joke' on a teammate.
No one around the Wizards finds any of it funny now.
``This situation has put the whole organization in a bad light,' Jamison said. ``It's an unfortunate situation, but we have to find a way to play through it and put it behind us. It's sad, but this is not what we are. It's a bad decision on two people and we have to pay for it.'
With every game he sits, Arenas, who was punished by Stern on his 28th birthday, stands to lose about $147,200 of his $16.2 million this season. He's in the second year of a six-year, $111 million contract. And while the financial loss is substantial, Arenas will also miss the game he so loves.
He may only have himself to blame.
Arenas was suspended without pay by Stern, whom the Wizards guard had dubbed ``mean' following Tuesday night's game in Philadelphia. Stern probably didn't appreciate that remark or some of Arenas' other antics, which included being photographed pointing his index fingers, as if they were guns, at his teammates and his overall nonchalance about the serious matter.
The Wizards arrived at Quicken Loans Arena already missing Arenas, who had traveled with them to Cleveland before learning of his suspension. The team got off its bus and promptly had to walk through a metal detector, an ironic reminder of what led to their teammate's' troubles.
The overriding thought was that Stern would wait for the legal process to play out, but he chose to act swiftly, a move that stunned some around the league.
``Surprised? No,' James said. ``Honestly, I'm not. People have been asking me my opinion and what I thought would happen. I didn't know it would be that extreme. I didn't know he would be suspended indefinitely. It's definitely tough. I know Gil and he loves the game of basketball, and that's for anybody, to have the game be taken away from you like that, I know it's tough.
``But you've got to use better judgment sometimes.'
O'Neal refused to comment on Arenas' plight. After being asked, O'Neal simply traced his fingers along his lips as if closing a zipper.
Arenas' suspension compounds Washington's problems in coach Flip Saunders' first season with the team. Healthier than they have been in a long time, the Wizards were expected to contend in the Eastern Conference. However, with their 12th loss in 16 games, the Wizards dropped to 11-22 and fell 12 games behind first-place Orlando in the Southeast Division.
``We have to find a way to turn this around, so we really have to put this behind us as quickly as possible,' Jamison said. ``It is what it is right now and we just have to focus on basketball. It's been awhile as far as us doing, but that should be our main and most important objective right now.'
Perhaps exhausted by the day's emotions and back-to-back games, the Wizards came out flat and fell behind by 13 in the first quarter before cutting it to six. Washington's offense was not in sync and the Wizards only had 43 points at half.
The Cavs exploited a size mismatch in the second quarter by pounding the ball inside to O'Neal, who scored 13 in the period to give Cleveland a 22-point halftime lead.
The Wizards trimmed it 11 in the third quarter, but Anthony Parker hit a pair of 3-pointers and James drained a deep one to push the Cavs' lead to 97-78. Cleveland coach Mike Brown emptied his bench in the fourth quarter, giving James and most of Cleveland's other starters some rest.
NOTES: The Cavs tied a season-high with 11 3-pointers and reached 100 points before the fourth, the first time they've done that since 2002. ... James was named Eastern Conference player of the month in December after averaging 28.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.6 assists and leading the Cavs to a 14-3 record.
The Associated Press News Service
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