- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 3, 2008

There is a new rite of spring here in the nation’s capital. But unlike, say, the bursting of the cherry blossoms, this one smells a lot worse to the locals. Once again, LeBron James has personally ruined the playoff hopes of the Washington Wizards.

It happened for the third straight year last night, when James and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Wizards 105-88 at Verizon Center to win the first-round playoff series 4-2. As usual, James was the dominant figure. But this time, the superstar who some like to portray as an emotive, play-acting diva played the role of maestro. He orchestrated. He conducted. He finished with 27 points, 13 assists and 13 rebounds — a triple-double.

“My whole game has always been built around what the defense gives me,” he said. “At no point in this game did I ever force anything. … I always try to see what’s going on with their defense. They threw a lot of things at me.”

James threw it right back, even though he had just two points at the end of the first quarter.

He ended up with more points than anyone, but he had help. James had more assists than the entire Wizards team.

“He’s our best player,” center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. “But he can’t do it all by himself.”

Cleveland coach Mike Brown described James succinctly, using one word, although he did use it over and over again. “Terrific. Terrific,” Brown said. “Terrific, terrific, terrific.” For good measure, he added another “terrific.”

“It was a total team effort,” Brown said. “We keep telling guys on our team that when [James] has the ball he is gonna get a lot of attention. We just have to be ready to be ready to shoot the ball.”

None was more ready than forward Wally Szczerbiak, one of the four players who came to the Cavaliers in a three-team trade in late February. Szczerbiak, supposedly a marksman, has struggled since the trade and was 14-for-39 from the field, making four of 16 3-pointers, in the first five playoff games.

Szczerbiak said before Game 6, James told him he needed at least 15 points from him. James said it was “17 to 20 points.” No matter. Szczerbiak was left wide open with all the attention directed toward James.

“Right away, I said I’ve got to stop thinking, should I be swinging the ball or should I shoot?” Szczerbiak said.

He made six 3-pointers in 13 attempts, shot 9-for-18 overall and finished with 26 points.

Giving Szczerbiak room to shoot might have made sense, but leaving Daniel Gibson open did not. The second year Cavaliers’ guard, known as “Boobie,” makes his living from the perimeter. But again, the James effect kicked in and Gibson had his chances.

Despite still feeling the effects of an ankle injury that caused him to miss 18 games in February and March, he made nine of 14 shots, including four 3-pointers, for 22 points.

“We were keying in on LeBron and those guys were really making shots,” Wizards forward Caron Butler said.

In a series marked by trash talk, dueling rappers, hard fouls and suspensions — these teams really don’t like each other — Gibson said the Cavaliers managed to put all the silly stuff aside.

“We made it a point of emphasis not to let us affect us,” he said. “This series was about us understanding the moment and going out to take care of business and winning games. We tried not to focus at all on what was going on, on the outside.”

James, the target of most of the contact and conversation, was asked in a variety of ways if he wanted to express what was really on his mind. He wouldn’t share. But he did have the last word, as he always does against the Wizards.

“Cleveland is advancing,” he said.



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