WASHINGTON -- On the surface, a meeting between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards means a matchup of arguably the two best teams in the Eastern Conference.
On the court, neither side is playing at that level.
Coverage of Cavs vs. Wizards begins Friday night at 7:30 on FOX Sports Ohio
The revamped Cavaliers (3-5) dropped their fourth game in a row Wednesday, a 124-107 home loss to the Indiana Pacers. They also lost center Tristan Thompson for possibly a month with a calf strain. It was another blow for a team that is allowing 111.9 points per game, the fourth-highest total in the league.
"We can't sustain effort for 48 minutes," said James, who had 33 points, 11 assists and eight turnovers against the Pacers.
Wizards coach Scott Brooks lamented a similar story after the team's 122-116 home loss against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. Washington (4-3) held the Suns to 15 points in the first quarter, led by as many as 22 and received 40 from Bradley Beal, yet allowed 107 points over the final three quarters.
"I tell our team all the time, the easy part is to play hard, the hard part is to play well," Brooks said after his squad lost for the third time in four games. "We have some really good players that make the hard part pretty good also. Fortunately for me, our staff, and our group, it never has to be talked about a lot. Hopefully we can get back to playing with some toughness, some physicality for 48 minutes instead of 24."
Phoenix forward TJ Warren scored a career-high 40 points on 16-of-22 shooting against Washington, which played funky lineups due to foul trouble and the absence of Otto Porter (illness).
The Wizards passed on making excuses for the deflating loss while recognizing the need for sustained effort. They have blown double-digit leads in five of their seven games this season.
"We score enough points every game to win the game. It is just a matter of us stopping guys, getting stops. We do not do that," Beal said. "We get so caught up in missed shots and not getting the ball or whatever it may be and we are not defending. When we do not defend, we cannot outscore everybody."
Teams have been doing just that to the Cavaliers, especially with 3-point shooting. Cleveland is allowing a league-worst 14 treys per game. The Pacers finished 16 of 26 from long distance.
"Some of it was turnovers," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. "Some they made tough shots. We contested, we were right there, and teams have been making shots against us. I thought we did a good job of trying to contest all shots."
The Wizards contested a James 3-point attempt in the closing seconds of an epic matchup in Washington with the Cavaliers in February, but the four-time league MVP banked home the game-tying shot in regulation. Cleveland eventually won 140-135 in overtime in what some considered the league's regular-season game of the year.
The Wizards won the final regular-season meeting in Cleveland but came up one game shy of a postseason rematch with a Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Porter returned to practice Thursday and will start Friday alongside Markieff Morris, who will play in his first game since undergoing hernia surgery on Sept. 22.
On Wednesday, Morris served a one-game suspension for leaving the bench area during a brief scuffle in the second quarter of Washington's loss at Golden State on Oct. 27. Brooks anticipates using Morris 15-16 minutes against Cleveland.
Cavaliers forward Jae Crowder, acquired from Boston in the blockbuster offseason trade for Kyrie Irving, is expected to start in place of Thompson.