- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2006

The Washington Wizards could not leave Cleveland quickly enough after their loss Saturday night. Really, they couldn’t.

The team plane was delayed for maintenance reasons after the Wizards’ 97-86 loss to the Cavaliers in Game 1 of their playoff series Saturday — a perfect ending to a day of debacles.

But when the Wizards finally took off, after being forced to take a different plane, they began to put LeBron James’ triple-double and their own offensive horror show in the back draft.

“When things go bad, they go all the way bad,” said Wizards forward Caron Butler, who said the delay lasted several hours. “That’s good. We got an opportunity to feel that early on in the playoffs.”

The Wizards returned to a rainy Washington late Saturday night and had practice at Verizon Center yesterday morning. There was no panic after losing the first game of their seven-game series, but there was lingering frustration and myriad problems to address.

The team will fly back to Cleveland later today in preparation for Game 2 in Quicken Loans Arena tomorrow. The Wizards will need a better performance from the trio of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Butler, who combined to shoot 15-for-47, including 2-for-15 from 3-point range.

“The shot selection was questionable,” said Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, who felt his team too often settled for quick jump shots. “It was a shot, but was it a quality shot? Was it a shot we could rebound? There weren’t a whole lot of those. That’s not having discipline or being organized. That’s not trusting what we do. We belied all trust [Saturday].”

The team held a film session yesterday, showing the continuous breakdowns. The Wizards hope the poor performance was just an anomaly and not a harbinger. Washington won three critical games in four days to clinch the fifth seed last week and some Wizards players suggested the team melted under the bright lights of James’ uber-hyped playoff debut.

Arenas scored only nine of his 26 points in the first three quarters and was benched for a long stretch in favor of little-used reserve Billy Thomas.

“It reminded us of our Game 1 when we played Chicago,” said Arenas, referring to an ugly 103-94 loss in last season’s playoff opener. “We didn’t show up. That’s how it is when you go into an arena where you are used to playing good and the crowd changes the game. That’s what happened. That game was set up for LeBron from the beginning.”

James obliged to the tune of 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. James found his rhythm through his passing, and teammates were able to knock down open shots as role players such as Donyell Marshall (19 points), Eric Snow (14 points) and Flip Murray (10 points) became factors.

The Wizards were indecisive whether to double James or try to take away his teammates, and were constantly burned by the MVP candidate. James took turns abusing Washington’s rotating defenders, with Jared Jeffries, Butler, Antonio Daniels and Thomas playing court jester.

“Somehow we have to contain him from driving to the basket and yet have to get out on shooters,” Jordan said. “Whether we double him, we have to get better whether in rotations and have to rebound the basketball.”

The Wizards were outrebounded by 16, including 20-9 on the offensive end.

But the Wizards put the loss in context, comparing it to last season’s playoff series win over Chicago, even though several key players, including Butler and Daniels were not on the club. Washington looked helpless after losing the first two games on the Bulls’ court before winning four straight — including Game 5 in Chicago — to win the series.

Washington hopes history does not repeat itself, at least as far as Game 2 is concerned. James ruled Game 1, but the Wizards are thinking about a long-term coup.

“It’s not elimination. It’s a seven-game series,” Arenas said. “You are mad after the game, but you are not overreacting. It’s a long series. We are going to make it a long series. We were down two [against Chicago] before we reacted. We know with this team we can’t get down 2-0.”

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