By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 2, 2008
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, May 1 -- LeBron James and Daniel Gibson were hooting and laughing as they watched Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao take turns trying to score on Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Chris Jent after practice on Thursday.
Pavlovic, wearing a brace on his sprained left ankle, reacted to each score with a fist pump or a cocksure head-nod. Every time Jent was able to successfully defend Pavlovic or Varejao, James and Gibson slapped hands and chuckled.
Less than 24 hours after squandering an opportunity to send the Washington Wizards toward their summer vacations for the third consecutive year, the Cavaliers didn't appear to be dejected. After all, they still need only one more victory to end this series -- whether in Washington on Friday or at home in Cleveland on Sunday. So, there was no need to panic after playing one of their worst games of this series -- in which they missed 15 layups and 16 three-pointers -- and still losing by just one point.
"It obviously hurt, but we've got to forget about it," center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. "Everybody took it home with them, but you showed up this morning and you saw smiles on everybody's faces. We're ready to go again. We still have home-court advantage, but they've got to beat us two times in a row."
Pavlovic could return after missing the past two weeks, but his return could contribute to the Cavaliers' inconsistent play throughout this series. They've displayed multiple personalities from game to game. They shot poorly but showed considerable poise down the stretch to take Game 1. They could do no wrong -- on either end of the floor -- and every player had a solid showing in a franchise-playoff-record 30-point win in Game 2. They could do nothing right -- on either end of the floor -- and every player except James failed to show up for a franchise-playoff-record 36-point loss in Game 3. All of the savvy and sharpshooting they displayed in a gutsy three-point win in Game 4 was absent on Wednesday, as the Cavaliers looked confused and anxious in the final minute of an 88-87 loss.
"I don't know if wacky is the word," Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown said when asked to describe this series. "The playoffs is a season into itself. You can experience a lot of highs, a lot of lows, a lot of good things, a lot of bad things, and we definitely have run the gamut so far.
"We haven't had the longevity together of some other teams and we're still trying to feel some things out," he said. "Are we quite there? At times we are."
The Cavaliers were in a similar position in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, when they were up 3-1 against the New Jersey Nets, gave away Game 5 at home, then finished off the Nets on the road. In the past two postseasons, Cleveland has eliminated the Wizards at Verizon Center, and Ilgauskas said a road win might do more for team confidence, with the fourth-seeded Cavaliers likely having home court advantage for the final time in the playoffs.
Although the Cavaliers were relatively upbeat on Thursday, there were several plays they wished they could take back, such as an ill-advised LeBron James three-point attempt with 77 seconds remaining -- and his team leading by five points -- that didn't even hit the rim. They also failed to utilize Ilgauskas, who scored 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting but didn't receive a touch in the post even after the Wizards' only 7-footer, Brendan Haywood, had fouled out with 2 minutes 11 seconds remaining. The 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas was being guarded by Darius Songaila, a 6-9 forward who had five fouls at the time.
"A bad decision made on my part," Brown said. "I didn't call his number."
Brown praised James's decision-making at the end of Game 4, when James found Delonte West wide open in the corner for the game-winning three-pointer, but James blamed himself for his choices on Wednesday.
On their final four possessions, James was stranded at the top of the key, dribbling down the clock while his teammates watched. James's unwillingness to drive to the rim before the final play, when his shot missed at the buzzer, was even more perplexing given his uncommon accuracy from the foul line, where made 15 of 18 free throws. He shot 59.2 percent (29 of 49) in the previous four games of the series.
"When you look at this game, you try to get better from it," James said. "I'm excited about Game 6 and the rest of the guys should be also. We've got a chance to close them out. I'm looking forward to the challenge."