- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2006

The Wizards are inclined to wonder if they will be allowed to breathe on LeBron James in their playoff series with the Cavaliers.

The conspiracy theory goes that David Stern already has equipped James with an imaginary “Do Not Touch” sign and explained the sanitized working conditions to the referees.

Stern, the NBA and the TV honchos all have a monetary interest in seeing James stick around at least until the second round of the playoffs.

The conspiracy theory has a degree of merit, of course, because of the NBA’s urge to genuflect in the vicinity of its leading players.

Yet the theory is not buttressed by the woeful postseason history of Kevin Garnett, as Stern and his minions would be eager to note.

Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas has no idea if orange highway cones will be deployed on the court to facilitate the mid-air forays of James.

“Are the referees going to treat him like Michael Jordan in his first playoff or like Michael Jordan after six championships?” Arenas said yesterday. “We don’t know.”

Wizards forward Caron Butler is liable to have first-hand experience with James whenever Jared Jeffries is on the bench.

“You have to go in there thinking positive things and hope the referees just let us play,” Butler said. “He’s going to be a real challenge for us. We need to do a lot of different things with him; show him a lot of different looks.”

To the notion the Cavaliers are preordained victors by league decree, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan smiled while refusing to stir the conspiracy sentiment.

“I think we’re absolutely happy where we are,” Jordan said. “Somehow we got through these last two weeks.”

The next two weeks — or 16 days if the series goes seven games — are liable to be as emotionally draining as the last two.

Jordan has watched lots of film on James and has come to the conclusion that you have to force him to dribble to the side of his weak hand.

“LeBron is a great, great player going to his right and a good player going to his left,” Jordan said. “We also have to protect the paint with him, because once he gets in there, you know he is going to finish at the rim.”

The Wizards-Cavaliers series is apt to swing on the number of free throw attempts awarded to James, especially if the Wizards sometimes are found guilty of infractions no more heinous than bad body odor.

The teams match up relatively well with each other, and not to overemphasize the Wizards’ winning three of four meetings with the Cavaliers in the regular season. The Cavaliers were missing Larry Hughes in two of the losses and incentive in the third.

The star power of James is the indeterminate element of the series. With the exception of Steve Javie, referees are human. They prefer to be liked as much as the next person, and that preference intensifies around basketball royalty.

The Wizards should pack plenty of mouthwash so as not to offend James. They also might want to be prepared to apologize if they accidentally bump him.

The Wizards ended up third in scoring, 21st in points allowed and last in NBA love.

Arenas scores 40 points and is perceived to be something of a shot-happy eccentric who averages 0.1 assists a game. That is the exaggeration, wrong as it may be.

Yet the Wizards are the ones with the playoff experience in this series, even if the national press sees them as a footnote.

Most of the eyes will be on James.

The Wizards only can hope the eyes of the striped shirts will not be overly protective around the anointed one.

“I think the referees are going to be fair,” Jeffries said. “As long as we play sound position defense on him, we’ll be fine.”

That sunny view promises to change if James is extended MJ-like courtesies.

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