- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

To hear some of the Cleveland Cavaliers tell it, the seeds of their 106-96 loss to the Wizards in Game 4 of the first-round playoff series last night were planted after their victory Friday in Game 3.

That was when Cavaliers’ superstar LeBron James scored 41 points and hit the game-winning basket, after which Wizards coach Eddie Jordan and some of his players claimed James was guilty of an obvious traveling violation that wasn’t called.

The conversation continued along the same lines yesterday. So when Game 4 at Verizon Center rolled around, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown had an inkling of what to expect.

He wasn’t disappointed. The Cavaliers were called for 34 fouls, the Wizards 21. The Cavaliers took 25 free throw attempts, the Wizards 40. Brown strongly intimated none of this was a coincidence.

“It paid dividends,” Brown said of the Wizards’ comments, after his team was outscored 60-39 in the second half. “Whatever they said, it obviously worked.”

Brown said the Cavaliers failed in the three key areas he stresses — preventing fast-break points (the Wizards had 18), offensive rebounding (the Wizards had 14 boards off the offensive glass and 10 second-chance points) and turnovers (the Cavaliers had 22, which led to 27 Washington points).

But the first-year head coach could not help but note that several of the turnovers were offensive fouls, including four called on James.

“I don’t know how LeBron James can be on the floor a little over 45 minutes and pick up four offensive fouls,” he said. “I’ve got to watch the tape, but to me, it’s shocking.”

James scored 25 points in the first half, a Cleveland playoff record, but none in the third quarter. He finished with 38, but many that came in the fourth quarter were a matter of too little, too late. He said the Wizards changed defenses in the second half, running Gilbert Arenas at him more, “and I didn’t want to force my shots.”

James, who set a team playoff record with seven 3-pointers — five in the first half — started looking for his teammates for assistance. Typical for this series, they failed to provide it — except for reserve guard Flip Murray, who had 19 points.

But getting back to what is becoming a prevailing issue of the series, James also said, “I’ve been called for more offensive fouls this series than in all 82 [regular season] games, probably.”

Larry Hughes, the ex-Wizard who jumped to the Cavaliers as a free-agent during the offseason, helped shut down Arenas in the first half. The Wizards’ top scorer has been waging a personal battle for supremacy with James.

Arenas, who came in averaging 30 points a game during the series (as opposed to 33 for James), was a non-factor in the early going. He had just six points at halftime. But he finished with 34, including 20 in the fourth quarter.

“He got to the basket,” Hughes said. “He shot 17 free throws and that’s enough to get you going.”

Arenas made 14 of 17 free throw attempts.

Hughes, a member of the NBA all-defensive team last year while playing for the Wizards, drew his fourth foul with 6:14 left in the third quarter and fouled out with two minutes to go.

“The last two fouls weren’t fouls,” he said. “I play defense. That’s what I do, and I like doing it, and it’s tough when I’m not able to do it. … Once I got four fouls, the way the game was being called, I couldn’t be as aggressive.”

But it wasn’t just that.

“We didn’t play good basketball offensively,” said Hughes, still not back to form after missing 45 games from Jan. 4 to April 19 with a broken finger on his right hand. “We were standing around a lot, watching.”

It’s tough to draw fouls when that happens.

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