Playoff Drive Will Be Done at No. 5

Wizards' Seed Set After Cavs Top 76ers: Wizards 117, Pacers 110

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 15, 2008; Page E01

Moments after Roger Mason Jr. wrapped up a 117-110 victory over the Indiana Pacers with a pair of free throws last night, the Wizards guard walked into the locker room believing that he had just helped his team remain in contention for the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

But then Mason and his teammates watched on a big screen television in the locker room as Cleveland's Devin Brown beat Philadelphia with a pair of free throws with 0.2 of a second remaining, thus securing the fourth seed and home-court advantage for the Cavaliers.

The bizarre and controversial sequence in Philadelphia rendered Washington's victory over Indiana meaningless. The Wizards and Cavaliers will meet in Game 1 of a best-of-seven series on Saturday or Sunday in Cleveland.

The league will release dates and times for playoff matchups early Thursday morning, a few hours after the Wizards (43-38) conclude the regular season with a game at Orlando.

"When I got off the court, someone told me that Cleveland lost and I felt that much better," said Mason, who led the Wizards with 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting. "Then I come in the locker room and they're shooting free throws to win the game but, it doesn't matter. We know we're going to play them in the playoffs, we're getting healthy, we're feeling good about ourselves and we'll be ready."

The Wizards completed the home portion of their schedule and eliminated the Pacers (35-46) from playoff contention in front of a subdued crowd, playing without the services of Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.

Arenas, who has played in five games since making his return after missing 66 contests, was held out as a precautionary measure to rest his surgically repaired left knee. Butler missed his second straight game with a bruised right knee.

Both players could see action tomorrow night at Orlando, but the team's goal is to have them at full speed for what promises to be an intense first-round series with LeBron James and the Cavaliers, who have eliminated the Wizards in each of the last two seasons.

"We'll look at Gil, we'll look at Caron and see how they are feeling health-wise," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "If they are able to play, I would like to see them play some. And then, we'll give our main guys limited minutes and give our bench some more minutes."

Washington's reserves came up big last night, outscoring Indiana's bench 70-22. Rookie guard Nick Young, who has fallen out of Jordan's regular rotation since Arenas returned on April 2, scored 14 points, forward Andray Blatche added 11 points and 11 rebounds and rookie forward Dominic McGuire chipped in with a season-high nine points and made two key free throws with 16 seconds remaining.

Six Wizards scored in double figures and they held a 58-31 edge in rebounds, but Jordan was not happy with some late-game sloppiness that allowed Indiana to draw within three on a three-pointer by Travis Diener with 17 seconds to play.

"It wasn't the prettiest of games and we made plenty of mistakes at the end, but we made the runs we had to make to keep a cushion to fight off a team that was on the desperate side and can make threes," Jordan said. "We left a lot of playmaking out there that we should have completed so that's what I'm not happy about. We're leaving a lot of plays out there that we have to complete."

Danny Granger led the Pacers with 35 points and nine rebounds.

Because tomorrow's game at Orlando will have no playoff implications, the Wizards can concentrate on getting key players healthy and on preparing for the Cavaliers, who have struggled of late.

The 76ers almost did the Wizards a favor last night and thought they had won, but a review by referees awarded Brown a pair of free throws. As the 76ers were brought back onto the court in Philadelphia for Brown's game-winning free throws, the public address announcer at Verizon Center informed Wizards fans that Cleveland lost because the game had already been listed as final.

Jordan, who watched the ending in his office, knew better.

"Cleveland made two free throws to seal home-court advantage with 0.2 seconds left," Jordan said. "It was a very questionable call."

Wizards Notes: The Wizards improved to 37-31 without Arenas this season and 10-13 without Butler. . . . Indiana has missed the playoffs two straight seasons for the first time since the 1987-88 and 1988-89 seasons.

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