By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
CLEVELAND, April 21 -- The Washington Wizards entered their first-round playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers believing that they had the better team and were equipped to avenge consecutive playoff series losses to the Cavaliers.
However, after the Cavaliers took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with a dominant 116-86 victory at Quicken Loans Arena on Monday night, the resilience the Wizards displayed all season will be tested like never before.
Game 3 is Thursday night at Verizon Center, where the Wizards will be received far more warmly than during the first two games but will nonetheless face some rough history.
Teams with a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven playoffs series are 191-13 all-time. Washington beat those odds in 2005 by coming from an 0-2 deficit against Chicago to win four straight and advance to the second round; but doing it again will require a much better performance than the one the Wizards turned in Monday.
"We have to win them," guard Gilbert Arenas said of Games 3 and 4, which will be played in Washington. "The pressure's on us now."
The Wizards got off to a solid start while building an early 15-8 lead, but the Cavaliers assumed control with a 17-4 run to close the first half and blew the game open in the third period.
For the second straight game, the Wizards lacked the offensive punch needed to overcome LeBron James, who added to his mastery of Washington with 30 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds before taking a seat with the Cavaliers comfortably ahead by 24 points in the fourth quarter.
After shooting 40.2 percent in Game 1, the Wizards shot 37.5 percent Monday, and the big three of Arenas and all-star forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison combined to make 10 of 36 shots and score 28 points.
Arenas, who scored seven points on 2-of-10 shooting, sprained his right wrist late in Game 1 and did not practice on Sunday but did not blame the injury for his performance.
"No, I'm not going to blame it on the wrist," Arenas said. "I was shooting fine before the game started. I just missed shots."
Before the game, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said he was hoping to see a repeat of the 2006 series between the teams, when the Cavaliers easily won Game 1 only to see the Wizards bounce back for an 89-86 win in Game 2.
He was sorely disappointed, as the Wizards never established an offensive rhythm and couldn't stop the Cavaliers defensively.
"They beat us and we beat ourselves," said Jordan. "Their coach kept them disciplined and this coach couldn't keep our guys disciplined enough to keep it competitive. That being said, they did what they were supposed to do, obviously, and we're guaranteed four games. We're going home and we'll see if we can lick our wounds, regroup and play with much more discipline, intensity and intelligence."
James showed all of that and more on a night when he controlled the game's tempo, mixed his scoring opportunities with passes to teammates, and took turns defending Arenas.
He stretched Cleveland's lead to 18 points when he drove and found Wally Szczerbiak for a three-pointer early in the third quarter and later stretched it to 20 when he made a 23-foot jump shot.
Cleveland led 65-50 midway through the third, when James drove hard down the lane, took off and was sent sprawling by Haywood, who was given a flagrant-2 foul and ejected from the game.
"It was scary honestly," James said. "My junior year, I fell like that and ended up breaking my wrist. When I was in the air, all I was thinking about [was] getting a leg under me so I could break my fall."
Added James: "It definitely wasn't a basketball play at all. In no way, shape or form."
The Cavaliers have now won eight consecutive playoff games against the Wizards, dating back to the 2006 series, and Monday's final score represented the largest margin of victory in a playoff game in team history.
"I know we just tried to come out and build a lead, which we did," said Joe Smith, a Cleveland forward and former Maryland star who contributed nine points off the bench. "Just kind of stick with what we are doing. You could see a little bit of frustration in their faces but that happens anytime you get down by 15 or 20 points and can't find an answer to get back into the game."
For the Wizards to turn things around, Arenas, Butler and Jamison will have to get it going offensively.
"We just have to do a better job to find a way to get in a better rhythm when the game is going their way," said Jamison. "We have to attack the rim better and get more fouls. Tonight, they were more aggressive than we were to start the game and throughout the game."