- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2007

CLEVELAND.

It was a lifeless playoff game.

There was nothing to it.

No intensity. No fervor. No late-game hysterics.

You have seen getaway games in late February evoke stronger displays of emotion than Game 1 of the Cavaliers-Wizards series yesterday.

That is no criticism of either team.

The Cavaliers know the Wizards have fallen and can’t get up.

The Cavaliers know the Wizards are playing without Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, and there is just no compensating for them.

And the Cavaliers know as long as they make a half-hearted attempt, the series will be theirs in four games, five maximum.

And that summed up this desultory affair: Cavaliers 97, Wizards 82.

LeBron James twisted his left ankle with 8:03 left in the third quarter, which, for a moment, appeared to be the most significant element of the exercise.

James stayed down for the longest time, while the Witnesses looked on anxiously and those from the nation’s capital thought: “Maybe this becomes a genuine series if James needs a couple of weeks of recovery time.”

But James, after writhing in pain and contorting his face in all possible manners, eventually rose to his feet and walked off the discomfort.

He went through the motions the rest of the way, and going through the motions was all that was necessary.

James finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, a relatively quiet performance by his standards.

Not that any heavy lifting was necessary from the one dubbed the King.

Sometimes the game is no more complex than putting the ball in the basket more times than the opposition.

That was the lament of Wizards coach Eddie Jordan.

“We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” he said.

That has become a recurring story line of a team that is missing the nearly 50 points of its two All-Stars.

“We have to do a better job of staying with things, of making plays down the stretch,” Jordan said.

That was the job of Arenas, and everyone fed off him, even if he did not always take the shot at essential moments late in the game. He at least attracted the defensive attention that gave his teammates more operating space.

That space has been narrowed considerably, and it manifested itself in the anemic shooting numbers of the Wizards: 36.7 percent.

The Wizards have been forced to change their style of play on the run. Or is that crawl?

Jordan is asking his players to work the 24-second shot clock instead of pushing the ball or taking the first available open shot in the halfcourt set. The Cavaliers led the Wizards in fastbreak points 21-1.

Antawn Jamison needed 27 field goal attempts to score a game-high 28 points.

“I thought we did a pretty good job of making it a halfcourt game,” Jamison said. “But then we had a couple of breakdowns, and that was pretty much the game.”

The Wizards have to be almost perfect to beat the Cavaliers in one game. Four games? Forget that notion.

Otherwise, the Wizards have the capacity to hang around for long stretches of the game, just as lottery-bound teams do each season.

The definition of a bad team in the NBA is one that cannot finish games. That does not mean the bad teams of the NBA are not competitive in the first 36-42 minutes of a game.

They usually are. They just the lack transcendent player who can carry a team in the waning minutes of a taut affair.

Jordan cannot say this.

Instead, he is reduced to trying to make chicken salad out of chicken fertilizer.

“I thought we did a pretty good defensive job on [the King of the Witnesses],” Jordan said. “I thought we rebounded the ball well. And I thought we played hard.”

The Wizards did all those things, and it was not even close at the end.

It does not bode well for the Wizards.

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