By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Early in Game 1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wizards forward Antawn Jamison posted up against LeBron James, received a pass and wheeled around James before flipping in a short finger roll.
The basket gave the Wizards a brief two-point lead and illustrated two things that were sorely missing as the Wizards went on to a 97-86 loss on Saturday.
First, it was one of the few times that Jamison looked comfortable all game; he wound up making 4 of 13 shots and scoring 11 points with seven rebounds in 43 minutes. During the regular season, Jamison was the Wizards' second-leading scorer (20.5 points per game) and top rebounder (9.3). In four games against Cleveland, he averaged 23.8 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 48.6 percent.
Second, the Wizards successfully exploited a weakness in James's game: his defense.
To bounce back with a win tonight in Game 2, the Wizards need better play and more scoring out of Jamison, Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. And they must find a way to make James expend energy at both ends of the floor.
"I wasn't aggressive at all," Jamison said. "I have to make LeBron work if he is going to guard me because he's doing his thing to us when he has the ball. I just have to play my game. I didn't get into a rhythm and get an opportunity to really be aggressive."
Jamison was 1 of 5 from three-point range and appeared to rush a few shots he normally makes. James split his time between Jamison, Jared Jeffries and Caron Butler on the defensive end and received plenty of help when assigned to either Jamison or Butler.
As quick as James is with the ball, he doesn't always move well laterally on defense; and as big as he is, he can be exploited in the low post if isolated one-on-one.
In one first-quarter possession, Butler squared up on James and drove around him on the baseline but had his shot attempt swatted out of bounds by reserve center Anderson Varejao. On another play, Jamison beat James off the dribble but missed a layup.
Jamison is crucial because his scoring has often served as a spark for the Wizards' offense, particularly when he's able to set his feet, get a clean look at the basket and knock down three-pointers.
Jamison's only three-pointer in Game 1 -- a 25-foot shot from the top of the key with 11 minutes 12 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter -- sparked a 7-0 run that cut Cleveland's lead to 12.
Sensing a possible game-changing run, players on the Wizards' bench jumped up and began exhorting their teammates on defense, and the crowd inside Quicken Loans Arena became as quiet as it had been all game long.
However, after a Cleveland score, Jamison missed an open three-point attempt, Arenas missed a running jump shot and the Cavaliers quickly regained momentum. That 7-0 run proved to be Washington's longest.
"The thing about that game is, as bad as we played and as good as LeBron played, we only lost by 11 points," Jamison said. "We had some chances to cut into the lead and get ourselves back into the game, but we couldn't make shots or we turned the ball over or we couldn't grab a rebound. We just didn't play very well and, give them credit, they hit shots and were the more aggressive team."
The Wizards lost a few games during the regular season on nights when good shots simply didn't fall. Coach Eddie Jordan didn't feel that way about Saturday's loss, when the Wizards shot 40.8 percent and made 3 of 22 attempts from three-point range.
The Wizards' performance featured unorganized possessions, poor spacing, sloppy passing and in some cases, selfishness. "I thought our offense let us down and it hurt our defense," Jordan said. "It was shot selection, discipline, not trusting what we do. I think they understand it now and hopefully, we're going to be better offensively."
Jordan gives his players, particularly Arenas, Jamison and Butler, the green light to attack offensively, but he wants them to do it within the framework of the offense. Obviously, that's not something he saw on Saturday.
"I allow my guys the freedom to play," Jordan said. "We were the third-leading scoring team in the NBA. I allow my guys to play under the system but we couldn't even do that. We couldn't even play free basketball within what we do. We were just playing selfish basketball. We know it, we've corrected it and we're going to get better at it."