By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
When the Washington Wizards came back from an 0-2 deficit to take four straight games and win a first-round playoff series in 2005, their opponent was the Chicago Bulls, a young, inexperienced team whose best player was Ben Gordon.
Three playoff appearances later, the Wizards again have dug themselves an 0-2 hole in the first round. But this time they are facing the Cleveland Cavaliers, last year's Eastern Conference champions, whose best player is LeBron James.
Yet the Wizards, who were sloppy and disorganized at both ends of the court during Monday night's 116-86 loss in Cleveland, remain confident that they can turn things around and make it a competitive series.
"We have a lot of guys like myself, Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, we were all on that team that came back, down 0-2 to Chicago, so we definitely feel confident in our skills and we know that we can get things done," said center Brendan Haywood, who was ejected in the third quarter of Game 2 after being called for a flagrant-2 foul on James. "When we watched the tape [yesterday], we realized that we made a lot of mistakes that aided them. And so, when you make a lot of mistakes to help the other team, you feel like, man, we cost ourselves the game."
Priority one for the Wizards in Game 3 will be establishing offensive rhythm. In two games, the Wizards are shooting 39 percent from the field -- including 22.5 percent from three-point range -- and have only 32 assists against 27 turnovers.
Haywood, who has made 9 of 12 field goal attempts, is the only starter shooting better than 39.1 percent, and scoring contributions from bench players other than Arenas have been practically nonexistent.
After Game 2 and again yesterday, Coach Eddie Jordan stressed the need for better ball movement, more poise and more discipline.
The Wizards lost Game 1, in part, because they missed so many open shots, particularly down the stretch. But in Game 2, the offense never flowed well enough after the first quarter to create open shots.
Because the Wizards only occasionally moved the ball from one side of the floor to the other, the Cavaliers were able to slant their defense to one side and cut off dribble penetration by Arenas and forward Caron Butler.
According to Haywood, Jordan and his staff had a frank chat with the team about sharing the basketball.
"We have to play as a team and not as individuals," said guard DeShawn Stevenson, who is averaging 7.5 points on 5-of-16 shooting. "Whenever we do that, we put ourselves in a real good situation. We can't get stuck on one side. We have to swing the ball to the opposite [side] and then get our one-on-ones. There's been a lot of hype going on, and we've had guys trying to do too much by themselves. It's the playoffs, so they are going to load up and make us go to the second side."
During the second quarter, when the Cavaliers blew open the game with a 17-4 run, Washington's offensive problems flowed to the defensive end, where James too often was able to either score or find open teammates when the Wizards rotated to him.
"We have to stay a lot more disciplined and trust what we've been doing and not get random possessions," Jordan said. "We had too many random defensive possessions, meaning not sticking with the game plan. When we watched the tape we see that if we stay -- the five guys -- disciplined and do things the way we've wanted to do at both ends, we can be very competitive. If we get out of sorts and undisciplined and excited and break down and are not trustworthy, then they are good enough to take advantage of it."
Several players insisted that the Wizards have not developed a psychological block because of the eight-game playoff losing streak to the Cavaliers. "When the other team comes out there and just makes highlight plays you can't do anything about, you feel kind of demoralized, and we don't feel demoralized," Haywood said.
But the team clearly was embarrassed by how easily the game went for Cleveland on Monday night. Damon Jones, the hero of Cleveland's series-clinching victory in 2006, mocked Stevenson's hand wave after making a fourth-quarter three-pointer, and several Cavaliers were laughing and joking on the bench as the game turned into a blowout.
"They beat us down this game," Arenas said Monday night. "They held home court and that's what home-court advantage is all about. We've got two at home and we've got to win those two."