By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 24, 2006
Not long after Saturday's 97-86 loss in Game 1 of their best-of-seven playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Washington Wizards' return flight to Washington was delayed for about an hour because of mechanical problems with the team plane.
It could be argued that the Wizards team that ended the regular season on a three-game winning streak never landed in Cleveland in the first place.
The individuals wearing blue Saturday certainly didn't resemble the unified squad that played aggressive, inspired basketball the previous week.
The Wizards were powerless to prevent LeBron James from going around, through and sometimes over their defense while posting a triple-double in his playoff debut. And offensively, Washington's attack never got off the runway.
Game 2 is tomorrow night at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena and according to Wizards forward Caron Butler, the basketball world will see a different team.
"I'm already tired of turning on the TV right now and seeing and hearing about it," said Butler, who made 4 of 14 shots and finished with 11 points and six rebounds in his first playoff game as a Wizard. "The phone is ringing. People are like: 'Did you hear what they just said about you?' That's fine. Let it all soak in. I'm going to keep answering my phone. I want to hear and see everything. I've got my antennas up and I'll definitely be ready Tuesday."
The Wizards practiced yesterday morning at Verizon Center and will have another workout in familiar surroundings today before boarding a plane and heading back to Cleveland.
The team will surely have a more pleasant flight home Tuesday night if it finds a way to at least limit James, who had a near perfect Game 1, scoring 32 points with 11 assists and 11 rebounds while playing 48 minutes.
The Wizards employed several defenses against James, including different man-to-man looks and some zones, and they were burned badly whenever they attempted to double-team him.
The Cavaliers countered that strategy by keeping James at the top of the key where he could see the double-team coming before attacking either by passing the ball to a wide open teammate or driving to the basket.
The strategy is familiar because Jordan isolates Arenas at the top of the key to prevent opponents from double-teaming his star. But while Arenas is an accomplished outside shooter, James does his best work from 17 feet and in. The Wizards could be better served by forcing James to try more outside shots. James was 1 of 4 from three-point range, air-balled one long jumper and badly missed several other outside shots on Saturday.
"Some way, we have to say: 'He's going to take the shots and we have to live with the shots he makes,' " Jordan said. "Hopefully, the percentages are that he misses more perimeter shots as opposed to us giving help so it spreads the defense out and he hurts us by driving the lane and finding the open man. We have to pick our poison."
As much as James ripped the defense apart with crisp passing and bullish drives to the basket, Washington's real problem was offense. Coach Eddie Jordan wants to see better all-around execution in Game 2 while getting more from Arenas, Butler and Antawn Jamison, who combined to make 15 of 47 shots and score 48 points.
The league's third-highest scoring team missed five of its first six shots and never put together the kind of game-changing run that was customary during the regular season.
"The shot selection was questionable," Jordan said. "Was it a rhythm shot? Was it a quality shot? Was it a shot we could rebound? There weren't a whole lot of those. That's just not having discipline, that's not being organized, that's not trusting what we do. We didn't have any of that."
The Wizards also failed to get into their fast-break game, which was a direct result of Cleveland's offensive effectiveness and work on the offensive glass. The Cavaliers held a 52-36 rebounding advantage and hustled their way to 20 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points.
Arenas, Jamison and Butler made the problem worse by taking -- and missing -- quick shots.
"Everybody was amped up," Butler said. "Obviously it was a big game, so guys were trying to make a statement, impose their will on the game. Sometimes you can get a little overanxious instead of letting things come to you. I think we all fell into that."
Fortunately for the Wizards, they have been down this road before and understand how quickly things can change from one playoff game to another.
They were similarly disjointed during two losses at Chicago in the first round last spring and were forced to spend several days hearing about the greatness of the Bulls' Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni while correcting their own offensive breakdowns.
"It's one game," said Arenas, who vowed to be more aggressive after making 7 of 20 shots and scoring 26 points in Game 1. "Everyone is going to have breakout games. Sometimes it takes a couple of games for guys to get going, get their rhythm and get comfortable. We learned that last year."