CLEVELAND — The Washington Wizards lost Nene to a knee injury, and then won the game with a strong effort on defense.
John Wall scored 21 points, Bradley Beal had 17 and the Wizards beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 96-83 on Sunday night.
Washington had a 66-63 lead midway through the third quarter when Nene departed with a sprained left knee. The Wizards then held the Cavaliers to 11 fourth-quarter points to return to .500 at 28-28 on the season. They also strengthened their hold on the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
“We’re a team right now that’s just trying to play the right way and get on a roll,” Wall said.
Nene had eight points, four rebounds and four assists in 21 minutes. He was coming off one of his best games with the Wizards, when he had a career-high 30 points in Saturday’s win over New Orleans, including the game-winning dunk with less than a second left.
Coach Randy Wittman said Nene banged knees with Spencer Hawes and will get an MRI on Monday.
Luol Deng led Cleveland with 17 points and the injury-riddled Cavaliers lost for the second straight time after winning six in a row.
The Cavaliers played without center Anderson Varejao (sore back) and guards Dion Waiters (hyperextended left knee) and C.J. Miles (sprained left ankle).
While the Wizards are in good shape to snag a playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers are five games out of the final postseason slot. Kyrie Irving, who scored 15 points, admitted that he’s looking at the standings.
“You have no choice but to pay attention to it,” he said. “We want to accomplish something, but it starts with every single game. Time is of the essence right now.”
Washington led 78-72 after three quarters, and then grabbed control in the fourth. Two baskets by Kevin Seraphin, who replaced Nene, and five points by Beal helped the Wizards build a double-digit lead before Trevor Ariza’s 3-pointer with a little over a minute left made it 96-81.
“We felt bad when he got hurt, but during the game, you have to keep focused the whole way, which we did,” Seraphin said.
The Cavaliers shot 49 percent in the first half, but were 4 of 19 from the field in the fourth quarter.
“The ball just seemed to stick in one area,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “It was almost like we played in an elevator at times. It wasn’t crisp like it was in the first half.”
Ariza scored 15 points and Marcin Gortat had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Hawes, playing his second game since being acquired from Philadelphia on Thursday, had 16 points and 12 rebounds for Cleveland.
The Wizards used a 12-0 run midway through the first quarter to go ahead for good. Cleveland got within one point several times in the third quarter but never pulled even.
The game featured two of the top young point guards in the league in Irving and Wall. Irving was the MVP of the All-Star game and Wall won the dunk contest.
Wall ended the first half with a dunk and two 3-pointers in the final 1:21. He banked in a 30-footer to beat the halftime buzzer, giving Washington a 58-52 lead.
Washington scored the first two baskets on a tip-in and a fast break after a bad pass by Irving, leading to a timeout by Brown just 31 seconds into the game. Brown’s message obviously worked as the Cavaliers took a 13-8 lead, but the Wizards scored the next 12 points to go ahead 20-13.
The teams split the season series, with the road team winning all four games.
“The last time we played Cleveland, we gave the game away,” Ariza said. “They played harder than us the last time. We did our best to prevent that from happening again.”
Hawes made his home debut late in the first quarter. He had 13 points and seven rebounds in 14 first-half minutes.
NOTES: While there’s no timetable for the return of Cleveland’s injured players, Varejao, who has missed the last six games, was on the court at Saturday’s practice. Waiters hasn’t been able to run since being injured Tuesday while Miles is still using crutches after hurting his ankle Wednesday. ... The Wizards are 11-6 in their last 17 road games. Washington is 14-14 on the road and at home. ... Cavaliers F Tristan Thompson, a native of Canada, celebrated his country’s win over Sweden in the gold-medal hockey game at the Olympics. “We’re supposed to win,” he said with a smile ... Wizards F Otto Porter, the third pick in the draft, didn’t play for the fourth time in six games.