Wizards Playing For Their Pride

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 30, 2007

The Washington Wizards haven't managed consecutive wins since all-stars Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas were injured in early April, so the prospect of taking four consecutive games from the Cleveland Cavaliers in their first-round playoff series is particularly unlikely.

But the undermanned Wizards can salvage some pride if they can avoid a sweep by winning Game 4 tonight.

At the very least, the Wizards can avoid having to watch the Cavaliers celebrate a series win on the Verizon Center court for the second straight season. Counting their second-round loss in a sweep to the Miami Heat in 2005, the Wizards are facing the prospect of being closed out on their home floor three straight years.

"You know what you're going to get from me [tonight]," said forward Antawn Jamison, who is averaging 32.3 points per game in the series. "It's just a sense of pride to not get swept. Everything has to be placed on the line. Cleveland is a great team and they know that. If they get a sweep, they get an opportunity to get some rest and get ready for the next round, but we want to do everything possible to delay that. We should at least give our fans something to be proud of."

To this point, the Cavaliers have not displayed the "killer instinct," as guard Larry Hughes put it, necessary to put away a wounded team like the Wizards. Cleveland nearly allowed Washington to erase a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit in Game 2 and let Washington draw even twice in the fourth quarter in Game 3 after leading by 17 points at halftime.

While crediting the Wizards for playing with heart and passion despite the absence of two all-stars, Hughes emphasized the need for the Cavaliers to come out tonight and end Washington's season.

Not only would the Cavaliers avoid risking key players to injury -- James threw a scare into the entire city of Cleveland when he rolled his ankle in Game 1 -- but the team would also get several days of much-needed rest while waiting for the New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors to finish their series.

"It's big to win the games when you can," said Hughes, who is averaging 19 points, 7 rebounds and 2.7 assists against his former team. "It's better to do it early than to do it late. We don't want to drag anything out. Win the games you can, get your rest and wait for the next team. You're better prepared that way."

Short of finding a medical miracle that would clear Arenas and Butler to play tonight, it doesn't appear that there is much Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan can do to change the tone of the series.

Jamison has been spectacular, veteran guard Antonio Daniels has been steady and the Wizards have generally taken good care of the basketball while keeping LeBron James from dominating the series as a scorer.

The problem has been poor shooting and a slew of little breakdowns at the end of games. Those have been constant issues since Arenas and Butler went out of the lineup. The Wizards are shooting 40.9 percent for the series and have been outrebounded by an average of 13 per game.

Guard DeShawn Stevenson is having a nightmare series offensively -- he's shooting 23.7 percent after making 46.1 percent of his shots during the regular season -- and the contributions from other players have been inconsistent at best.

Jarvis Hayes has played solid defense on James but is shooting 37.7 percent, centers Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood have been outplayed by Zydrunas Ilgauskas and the bench has provided little offensive punch outside of Darius Songaila's nine points per game.

With so much stacked against his team, Jordan's message yesterday revolved around forgetting about the big picture and simply concentrating on tonight's game.

"You sort of put a veil over your face, a veil over the entire situation and just really tunnel vision on just playing this game," Jordan said. "We may have some disgruntled fans when we don't make shots, you may hear it but you have to concentrate, keep your nose to the grindstone as the old saying goes and keep believing you can do it."

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