Someone Get Me Broom Service

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By Mike Wise
Monday, April 23, 2007

CLEVELAND

Postcards from a Game 1 ledge:

· Antonio Daniels, having an animated discussion with Etan Thomas about how to run basketball's most basic play.

Thomas: "I thought when Darius [Songaila] popped" . . .

Daniels: "What are you talking about?! He catches it at the top of the key. Then you pick-and-roll."

Thomas, sheepishly: "Oh."

· A miffed Eddie Jordan wonders why his defense didn't get credit for holding LeBron to 14 shots.

· "Somebody call maintenance," the Wizards' locker room attendant says, "the urinal is overflowing. It's going everywhere."

It was another misspent late April afternoon in Cleveland, where an almost lethargic LeBron James and a launching Larry Hughes are enough to quell an NBA playoff team in name only.

No Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler equaled insurmountable adversity going in. But for a moment you believed the Wizards might make a real run at a very fallible Cavs team Sunday afternoon, a stand that mattered.

Instead, the fourth quarter got away from them, they decided to play pop-a-shot instead of run-the-offense, heads hung, and it was same ol', same ol' one year later.

Deja lose.

The confused starting center was no more responsible than the malfunctioning commode in this no-flow, Game 1 loss to the Cavaliers. DeShawn Stevenson missing 9 of 12 shots wasn't even the main problem. Nor was it Eddie Jordan keeping his pride war with Brendan Haywood alive by refusing to play the 7-footer one second in the second half -- two quarters controlled offensively by Cleveland's 7-foot-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Those were merely symptoms of a team that never seemed on the cusp of an upset. Even when Antawn Jamison canned a 16-footer to bring them within two with 8 minutes 21 seconds left in the third quarter, there was nothing in the Wizards' demeanor that made you feel they could seize it.

Even when they methodically numbed the crowd and defensively neutralized LeBron, nothing made you think they could put the Cavs on their heels. Nothing said they could steal the opener of a series that does not look to go more than eight more days.

Since they kept it close for more than three quarters and Jamison and Jarvis Hayes sparkled offensively, you kept hearing from the players afterward how the Wizards "competed," how they "showed up" against the Cavs in Cleveland.

Yeah. Okay. So did the Clantons in Tombstone.

There was effort and, at times, execution. And a real commitment to defending one of the most gifted players in the league. There was also a patient, deliberate style for most of three quarters that drained Cleveland defensively before the Wizards got careless with their shot selection.

But at no time Sunday afternoon did Jordan's team demonstrate a shock-the-NBA fervor, an unbridled passion about proving their detractors, who rightly thought they had no shot in this series, wrong.

Unless Stevenson and Daniels can get to the free throw line to help Jamison and unless Haywood gets in the game and plays as well against Ilgauskas as he did at times a year ago, Washington is going on vacation next Monday after Game 4.

If this indeed keeps up, they should just steal a line from Nick Van Exel, who, the day before the Lakers were swept in the 1998 playoffs, joined Shaq and Kobe in the team huddle, and said, "One, two, three . . . Cancun!"

The Wizards aren't going to win this series, which might sound unnecessarily harsh after what's been written already. But they need to take at least one game for their own mental well-being. Even without Butler and Arenas, it would be crushing to be swept from the postseason in two of the last three years.

Four games and out against a Cleveland team with no discernible ability to keep a bad team down would be disheartening. And as a player and an organization, you don't want that hanging over you in the offseason, even without the two best players on the team nursing surgically repaired hands and knees.

Arenas summed up the mood of his team as well as anyone in one of his blog entries the other day. He said since he's been gone the locker room has become a quiet and dispassionate place with the feel of "a library."

You can execute all you want, but until a little excitement courses through your body this time of year it's still just Game No. 83 toward an inexorable end. Stars or no -- broken toilet or not -- this locker room is better than that.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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