New Year Rings a Bell

LeBron James has his eye on the basket as Etan Thomas, left, and Caron Butler look on in Cleveland.
LeBron James has his eye on the basket as Etan Thomas, left, and Caron Butler look on in Cleveland. (NBAE via Getty Images)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 2, 2006

CLEVELAND, Nov. 1 -- In a near replica of last spring's thrilling first-round playoff series, the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers tipped off their 2006-07 seasons Wednesday night with a tightly contested game that featured dramatic momentum swings, big shots and, for the Wizards, missed opportunities.

The Cavaliers, who won that memorable series in six games, emerged with a 97-94 win after Washington's Jarvis Hayes and Antawn Jamison each missed an open three-point attempt that would have tied the game and forced overtime.

Then again, the Wizards may have counted themselves fortunate to even be in the game considering that two-time all-star guard Gilbert Arenas went scoreless in the first half and wound up with seven points on 2-of-12 shooting.

The Cavaliers were paced by Larry Hughes, who tore into his former teammates for a game-high 27 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Caron Butler led the Wizards with 23 points, and Jamison finished with 20. LeBron James had 26 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists for the Cavaliers.

Jamison made 9 of 17 field goals, but the miss he'll remember came with 2.9 seconds remaining. On a play drawn up by Coach Eddie Jordan in the huddle, the Wizards inbounded the ball to Arenas, who wheeled off a screen set by Jamison, drew two defenders and zipped the ball to his open teammate.

Jamison, who missed all three of his three-point attempts Wednesday night, squared up well and appeared to get a clean release but the shot slid off the right side of the rim. Hayes's shot came with seven seconds remaining and also was as wide open a look as a player could hope for.

"Those were both good shots, shots me and Antawn make nine times out of 10," said Hayes, who finished with 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting. "The thing about it is, the game should not have even come down to those shots. We didn't get some stops down the stretch and that hurt us also."

The Wizards were outrebounded 50-33 and Cleveland did particular damage on the offensive glass, where it held a 16-9 advantage. Arenas, who finished with fewer than 10 points only once last season, did not get on the scoreboard until he made a difficult layup with 3 minutes 34 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

For much of the game, Arenas appeared to be content with distributing the ball to open teammates. He finished with 11 assists and four turnovers. Arenas, however, was plagued by early foul trouble and picked up his third on a charging call that forced him to leave the game with 8:54 left in the first half and the Wizards leading 33-30. Washington, though, managed to stay in the game.

Etan Thomas, who started at center over Brendan Haywood, was 5 of 5 from the field with 10 points and three rebounds in the half. Butler, who defended James most of the night, outscored his Cleveland counterpart 13-11 in the half.

The Wizards forced 12 turnovers and held a 15-2 advantage in fast-break points in the first half. The game's final four minutes featured big shots by both teams.

Arenas tied the score at 89 when he hit a long three-pointer with 3:22 remaining, James and Butler traded layups the Wizards went ahead when Jamison made a mid-range jump shot. Cleveland drew even when Hughes sliced down the lane and threw down a one-handed dunk, and Hayes missed consecutive jump shots on the next Washington possession. James drove and scored a layup, giving Cleveland a 95-93 lead. After Jamison made 1 of 2 free throws with 36 seconds remaining, Anderson Varejao closed out the scoring by making 2 of 4 free throws on Cleveland's final two possessions.

Close losses were the norm last season for the Wizards, who were 10-18 last season in games decided by six points or less.

The Cavaliers are considered by many to be a potential NBA Finals team, while the Wizards have generated no such buzz. This despite the fact that Cleveland won three of last season's first-round playoff games by one point.

"Yeah, but it's about winning and losing," Jordan said before the game. "All the numbers you can toss aside. It's about the W and the L. That's all that matters."

Wizards Note: Injured forward Darius Songaila will undergo surgery on Thursday to repair a herniated disk in his lower back. He is expected to miss 10-12 weeks.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company