Wizards Look to Make Necessary Home Improvements
Team Cites Need for Discipline on Both Ends of the Court
Thursday, April 24, 2008; Page E01
LeBron James is expecting to face a motivated opponent and be confronted by a raucous crowd when his Cleveland Cavaliers face the Washington Wizards in Game 3 of the first-round playoff series tonight at Verizon Center.
Largely because of James, who has been brilliant while averaging 31 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds, the Cavaliers lead the best-of-seven series 2-0 and are threatening to sweep the Wizards out of the playoffs for the second straight season.
"We know it's going to be electrifying," James said. "It's going to be a hostile environment. We have to able to, if they hit us with a punch, we counter with a punch."
Realizing that his words may have conveyed the wrong message in a series that has featured four technical fouls, two flagrant fouls and one ejection, James paused and smiled.
"Not literally," he continued. "Let me change my words. If they make a few shots, just counter their attack and move on."
The Wizards' promotions department is asking fans to attend tonight's game dressed in white to create "White Out" conditions, and several players have talked about how they are looking forward to receiving a friendly reception after being treated rudely by energetic crowds at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.
However, simply pulling on the home uniforms and running onto a familiar court won't fix everything that went wrong in the first two games, particularly Game 2 when the Wizards fell apart in the second quarter and never recovered as the Cavaliers cruised to a 30-point victory.
The Wizards are shooting 39 percent and haven't been able to get a handle on James, who is shooting 55.3 percent in this series and has led the Cavaliers to eight consecutive playoff victories over the Wizards.
Three of those wins have come at Verizon Center.
"You have to earn it," Coach Eddie Jordan said about getting Wizards fans excited tonight. "You've got to get the crowd believing in you. You've got to get the crowd to say, 'Hey, they're playing good basketball, they're rebounding well and they're defending well.' And then they'll come along with you, and that's when you'll get that sixth-man feel and that ride from them. But, if your fans see you breaking down and you're playing a game like [Monday night], heck, they might cheer for Cleveland."
Given the level of hostility that has built up between fans of the teams during the last three seasons, that likely won't happen. But Wizards fans have every right to expect more from their team.
Beginning with DeShawn Stevenson's bold statement that James was "overrated" following a win over the Cavaliers at Verizon Center on March 13 and continuing with a blog entry Gilbert Arenas wrote in which he practically begged for a first-round matchup with the Cavaliers, the Wizards have displayed a level of cockiness that has not been backed up by performance.