Cavaliers Say All The Right Things About Wizards

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 21, 2007

CLEVELAND, April 20 -- Gilbert Arenas's season-ending knee injury won't allow him to repeat his classic duel with LeBron James in the Washington Wizards' playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he is still having an impact on this series. Cavaliers guard Larry Hughes said his former teammate recently called several Cavaliers players to let them know that "it's not going to be easy" playing the Washington Wizards.

James said Arenas talked trash to him on the phone, but he didn't have the heart to respond. "No. Absolutely not. I don't talk trash -- only when somebody talks trash a little bit to me. But he's not playing," James said with a laugh. "I can't talk trash to him. It doesn't make sense."

James is disappointed that the Wizards enter this rematch of last season's six-game first-round series without Arenas and Caron Butler, who is out at least until the second round with a broken right hand. "Definitely, for me, because I love going against the best, no matter what team is put up against us," James said. "It definitely has taken a little bit of the spunk out of the series, that's just real. We still have to play."

The Cavaliers (50-32) have the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and a seemingly favorable bracket -- they wouldn't have to face defending champion Miami, Detroit or Chicago until the conference finals and drew the injury-depleted Wizards in the first round. The Wizards (41-41) went 2-8 in their final 10 games, but Cleveland Coach Mike Brown said his team can't overlook them. "This is a dangerous team. We've got to bring it," he said.

While many in Cleveland are anticipating this best-of-seven series to last five games or less, Brown said he remembers being a scout for the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets in 1994 when they upset the 63-win Seattle SuperSonics in the first round. "Everybody said: 'Oh, Seattle's going to sweep. Seattle's going to sweep.' Seattle went up 2-0 and everybody really started pulling out the brooms," Brown said. "We went out and won three in a row and won the series."

Brown was also an assistant coach for Indiana in 2005, when the sixth-seeded Pacers defeated third seed Boston in the first round, although star forward Ron Artest was serving a season-long suspension. "I just gave you two examples," Brown said. "We have to make sure we stay focused enough to not let [the Wizards missing Arenas and Butler] bother us."

The Cavaliers have had a tendency to play down to their competition, losing twice to New York and Charlotte this season, so Hughes said they are in no position to consider the Wizards a first-round bye. "We just look at our season and how we've played against teams with missing players or under .500 or with no playoff hopes. That should keep us going in the right direction," Hughes said. "They did enough work, regardless of who played or who was injured. They did what it takes to make it to the playoffs."

Does Hughes wish the Wizards were at full strength? "Not at all," he said. "If it's the regular season and we battle those guys, a couple of times you want their best shot. But at this point in the season, any advantage you can get, you want to take it. It's unfortunate for those guys but we have to take advantage of it."

Hughes said he has spoken to Arenas a few times since he had surgery on his left knee, but missed his phone call after the playoff matchups were set this week. "It happens at a bad time for him. But he's in good spirits," Hughes said. "I told him to be patient. Everybody goes through some type of injury. It will probably never be the same; you have to do your work to withstand it. The good thing about it is, he can't put up any 40-pointers. That's good."

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