Butler returns as Wizards dodge Cavs, get back to .500

WASHINGTON (AP) -- When the Vogue cover model missed the 3-point attempt at the buzzer, the returning birthday boy and the Washington Wizards had an exhilarating win over a big nemesis.

Caron Butler unleashed a month's worth of pent-up energy on day he turned 28, coming back from a 16-game injury absence to score 19 points Thursday night in the Wizards' 101-99 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Butler, whose hip injury sent Washington into a February slump, scored the game's opening basket, survived some rough contact and made six of his first eight shots before fatigue set in. The player the Wizards affectionally refer to as "Tough Juice" finished 8-for-18 from the field and had five rebounds in 41 minutes.

"Swag at an all-time high," said Butler, sporting a sharp suit with a purple-and-white tie and matching handkerchief after the game. "Feeling good. Good win. Birthday. Going to go out with the team into the city and celebrate right now."

Butler scored only one point in the fourth quarter, but at least he had a better game than LeBron James, who marked his appearance on the cover of the April issue of Vogue with a spotty performance. He finished with 25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and seven turnovers and went 9-for-22 from the field, including 1-for-7 from 3-point range and 1-for-6 in the fourth quarter.

James was driving with a chance to tie -- the Cavaliers trailed 96-94 -- when he lowered his left shoulder into DeShawn Stevenson for a foul with 19.4 seconds to play. James' potential game-winning 27-footer, again with Stevenson guarding him, hit the front of the rim and bounced away as time expired.

"I missed shots. I'm human. I can miss shots," James said. "We still had a chance to win. That's all I can ask of my team and my teammates. We turned the ball over once again. I turned the ball over too many times."

The victory put the Wizards (32-32) back at .500 for the first time since they were 24-24 on Feb. 6. It also gave them a measure of satisfaction against a team that has knocked them out of the playoffs in back-to-back years.

"Every time we play them they have this certain swag to them that they can just beat us," said Stevenson, who exchanged his share of trash-talk during the game. "And I'm tired of going out there and them jumping on us."

Antawn Jamison had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Darius Songaila scored 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting for the Wizards, who nearly blew a nine-point lead in the final 4 1/2 minutes.

Sasha Pavlovic scored 19 of his season-high 24 points in the first half for the Cavaliers, but he sat out much of the second half because of foul trouble and fouled out with 1:19 to play.

Butler was aggressive from the opening whistle. He crashed to the floor belly-first while making a layup and drawing a blocking foul on Anderson Varejao, then popped up instantly and raised his arms to a roaring crowd. He had 13 of Washington's first 31 points.

"That was big for us," point guard Antonio Daniels said. "To see him pumping the crowd up, you could see he's back to being who he is."

Cleveland missed its first seven shots in the fourth quarter, allowing the Wizards to go on a 9-2 run capped by Songaila's three-point play. Washington led 92-83 after a basket by Stevenson with 4:21 remaining.

But it was the third quarter -- when the Wizards shot 71 percent -- that bothered Cleveland coach Mike Brown the most.

"Awful, awful. It's the same old song," Brown said. "I don't why we're not coming out in the third quarter not focused."

Game notes
Cleveland's Ben Wallace returned after missing Wednesday's game with back spasms. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (bulging disc in back) missed his seventh straight game. The injuries prompted the Cavaliers to sign C Lance Allred from Idaho of the NBA's Development League to a 10-day contract. ... James, who had a knee-to-knee collision in Wednesday's game, went down twice in the first half. He limped off the court after getting bumped by Stevenson while catching a pass but soon returned. ... Jamison (back strain) and Daniels (sprained left thumb) both started for the Wizards after missing practice Wednesday, although Daniels was clearly in pain when handling the ball.