- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2006

CLEVELAND — The chant got louder and louder throughout the afternoon at Quickens Loan Arena: “M-V-P, M-V-P, M-V-P.”

LeBron James may not win the NBA’s highest individual honor this season, but “King James” certainly played like the league MVP in yesterday’s Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Washington Wizards.

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ phenom amassed the first postseason triple double in franchise history in his first playoff game. The 21 year old finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

“The things that he does offensively just blows you away,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said after his team’s 97-86 win, which was not nearly as close as the final score suggests. “And he does it within the flow of the game, which makes him special. He doesn’t force anything.”

James, who averaged 31.4 points a game in the regular season, did not start well. He airballed a 3-pointer on his first shot, but quickly found his comfort zone, largely by setting up teammates when the defense double-teamed him. When he was one-on-one, he would drop-step past a defender for easy points.

The third-year forward, who is living up to the hype after coming into the league as the most celebrated draft pick in recent history, took over after the game when it was tied 18-18 late in the first quarter.

James began a 9-0 tear with a 3-pointer. He then slashed his way to a three-point play and hit three free throws before feeding an open Donyell Marshall for a 3-pointer to make it 30-18 with 32 seconds left in the opening quarter.

James’ burst effectively sealed the contest as the Wizards never seriously threatened after that.

“We just wanted to close the quarter the right way,” said James, who shot 12-for-27 from the field and played all 48 minutes. “I was able to get in the seams and hit some jumpers.

“I am always looking for Donyell,” added James, who became the second-youngest player in NBA playoff history (behind Magic Johnson) to record a triple-double. “He does an excellent job of getting the open creases.”

Marshall scored 19 points, largely thanks to James, who penetrated and found him open for layups or drew the defense and made passes to give him open jumpers.

As impressive as James’ totals were, it was the timing of some of his biggest plays that made his performance even more spectacular.

After the Wizards’ trimmed the lead to 11 points midway through the third period, the 6-foot-8 swingman slashed across the lane, hit a fallaway off the glass while getting fouled and converted the free throw to reassert his team’s command at 69-55 with 1:41 left in the quarter.

“We tried to make a run, but you don’t make a run if they score and you can’t make stops,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “It was hard to contain LeBron.”

James continued his dominance. He dished out a no-look pass to Ronald Murray for layup after the defense collapsed on him in the lane to make it a 17-point blowout after three quarters. After Washington cut the margin to 13 with 4:44 left, Cleveland’s hometown hero sealed it by taunting Caron Butler with the ball on the perimeter before breezing past him for a jam while being fouled. He concluded the spectacle with a somersault into the courtside photographers.

The Wizards never found an answer for James, and left the arena knowing it will be a short series if “King James” continues his reign.

“He was in a rhythm,” said Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, whose team got away from the gameplan of staying in front of James and forcing him to shoot from the outside. “You can’t let him feel like that. You have to blow smoke in his face and not let him get into a rhythm. When he controls the game like that, it’s tough.”

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