- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Both teams have vented about the officiating and traded barbs.

But now that their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series has been reduced to three games, none of the above will help the Washington Wizards or Cleveland Cavaliers.

“You can’t overstate how important this game is,” said forward Antawn Jamison, whose Wizards enter Game 5 tonight in Cleveland knotted with the Cavaliers at 2-2. “It’s huge for both of us. They know it as well as we do. Win this one and you put yourself in the driver’s seat.”

While the first four games have pretty much gone to the team that appeared to need the victory the most — the Wizards rallied from 11 points down in Game 4 to avoid an almost insurmountable 3-1 hole — Game 5 falls under the category of “must win” in a seven-game series for a number of reasons.

To begin with, in series tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner has gone on to win the series 107 of 128 times. In those series, the home team in Game 5 holds a 95-33 advantage.

What makes the task even more daunting is Cleveland’s record at home. While the Wizards won Game 2 there — and in the process ended the Cavaliers’ 12-game home winning streak — Cleveland was 31-10 at Quicken Loans Arena in the regular season.

The Wizards may be able to draw strength from the fact that they defeated the Cavaliers three straight times during the regular season after dropping their first meeting.

The common thread in all three of Washington’s regular season victories is the Wizards scored at least 100 points in each. And the 106-96 Game 4 win against Cleveland made the Wizards 4-0 against the Cavaliers when they put up triple-digit numbers.

It’s no secret Wizards coach Eddie Jordan wants to get the Cavaliers into a running game, which is where Washington thrives. In fact, he’d love to see the Wizards pick up tonight where they left off after scoring 60 points in the second half Sunday.

“We can force the tempo even after makes,” Jordan said. “That’s how we control the tempo. But we have to score to force the tempo. If you can keep on scoring, somehow they think that they have to keep up with you.”

This might be the biggest of Cleveland’s weaknesses the Wizards can exploit. They almost certainly have to figure that LeBron James, averaging 34.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists in his first four career playoff games, will thrive in the raucous home environment.

But the Wizards are at their best against Cleveland when they are pushing the ball and Cleveland point guard Eric Snow is simply unable to keep up.

“They really don’t want to get in a running game and we know that,” the Wizards’ Gilbert Arenas said. “They are going to call plays for LeBron and try to get him going early. It’s our job to make sure that we don’t get caught up in anything other than trying to focus on playing our game.”

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