Wizards Out to Finish Off Cavaliers This Time

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Washington Wizards were supposed to be little more than pushovers on Christmas night when they visited Cleveland and LeBron James in a nationally televised game, but they put up a major fight and even held a seven-point lead late before falling 93-89.

Today, when James and the Cavaliers (27-5) make their first visit to Verizon Center this season, the Wizards (6-25) hope to be as competitive. They certainly don't have much momentum after absorbing a 108-83 loss at Boston on Friday night.

After playing solid basketball in their previous four games -- and winning two of them -- the Wizards were dominated by the defending world champions from the second quarter on and suffered one of their worst losses of the season.

Next up is James, who posted his first triple-double of the season in a 117-92 win over Chicago on Friday night.

So which Wizards team is going to show up today: the one that played with energy and moved the ball crisply in the loss at Cleveland or the one that was totally outclassed in Boston?

"I hope we're the team we all saw in Cleveland," said forward Caron Butler, who returned to the lineup Friday night after missing three games because of a sprained left ankle. "We just have to find a way to keep it positive. It's tough right now, but at the same time we have a good Cleveland basketball club coming and we have to play with a lot of energy, come out enthused and be ready because it's going to be an early game. Right now our feelings are hurt, but at the same time you've gotta push through."

The Wizards have been without Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood all season but have been hit by a new wave of injuries. Guard DeShawn Stevenson missed Friday's game and expects to be out as long as 2 1/2 weeks because of a lower back problem. Starting center Andray Blatche, who sprained his left ankle in the first quarter Friday night, was limited to light activity in practice yesterday and will be a game-time decision.

Blatche, who appeared in all 82 games last season, has yet to miss a game this season and has been one of the team's most consistent performers of late. In 11 games as a starter, Blatche is averaging 11.1 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 45.7 percent.

If he can't go, interim coach Ed Tapscott could elect to start veteran Etan Thomas or rookie JaVale McGee.

"I don't think there is anything else that can happen that will be as bad as it's been the last two seasons," Jamison said of the team's injury situation. "Knock on wood. It just can't."

The Cavaliers are without their starting center, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who has a chipped bone in his left heel and is expected to miss a month. Anderson Varejao, who came up with a big offensive rebound down the stretch against the Wizards on Christmas night, will start at center in place of Ilgauskas.

The Wizards likely would have won the game in Cleveland with better execution late and a few more-favorable calls. Mike James scored a season-high 26 points, Butler had 10 assists and Jamison, who is always a tough matchup for Cleveland, scored 28 on 11-of-21 shooting.

However, Jamison fouled out late in the game after a pair of questionable calls went against him.

Still, the Wizards rode the momentum from that showing and won back-to-back games for the first time all season against Oklahoma City and at Houston.

Tapscott said he'd "certainly" reference the Cleveland game more than Friday's loss at Boston. "It's the NBA," he said. "You always have an opportunity to prove yourself and pull yourself together and compete because there is another game coming, and we have another game coming against a quality opponent. We just need to get ourselves together and improve."

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