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Until Wizards Win, There Is No Rivalry

Cleveland routs Washington, 105-88, in Game 6 at Verizon Center to knock the Wizards out of the playoffs for the third straight year.

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By Mike Wise
Sunday, April 20, 2008

CLEVELAND

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Less than four minutes remained Saturday, and it was time to see what had changed, how the Wizards were going to flip the script and not make this "Groundhog Day." For two straight years, LeBron James had beaten them in late April, six games and counting, and now it was up to DeShawn Stevenson and Gilbert Arenas to back up their boasts, for the Wizards to either put away Cleveland on its home court or make a defensive stop at the end of game and hold on.

Antawn Jamison took the first shot, missing from 14 feet. He missed twice more in barely a minute -- deep, errant three-point attempts that came off the rim. There were 11 misfires by the Wizards in all at the end, some of them eyesores and most from the perimeter.

They gave up the lane when it mattered, too, surrendering a driving layup to LeBron with less than two minutes left in a tie game and then a runner in the key with less than a minute left, to make it very tough on themselves.

All the pre-series yakking -- Stevenson saying LeBron is "overrated," Arenas saying the Cavs would be out in the first round -- dissolved the moment the ball went up at Quicken Loans Arena. It's all hype.

They talked more junk on the floor. But this was about substance. The qualities that separate playoff contenders from teams that go on vacation in early May emerge in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, where the Wizards were inept. Again. And again.

You don't have to be a basketball purist to vent after what happened in this Game 1 of this Eastern Conference first-round series, to wonder how a team that attacked offensively most of the afternoon suddenly fell in love with its jump shot and let another spirited effort slip away.

But you do have to wonder when and if the Wizards are going to realize they have more weapons, more depth and too much talent to let one great player and a smattering of very marginal role players ruin Washington's postseason for the third year in a row.

In 2006, the last time the Wizards won a playoff game in Cleveland, they outplayed the Cavaliers for much of the series and were undone by LeBron's masterful clutch play at the end. Last season, they had a bona fide excuse, missing Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler and relying on 32 points per game from Jamison.

Now? I'm sorry. I don't care if these are the defending Eastern Conference champions or not. I don't care if Arenas, Butler, Jamison and their teammates are learning each other's games again after not having been on the court together for much of the season.

The trades made at midseason have not worked out well for Cleveland thus far; they're not the Cavs who dumped Detroit a year ago.


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