- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

CLEVELAND — Hold off on LeBron James’ ascension onto the Mount Rushmore of sports legends, because last night he was human — average, even — as the Washington Wizards evened their playoff series with Cleveland following an 89-84 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2 of their first-round series at Quicken Loans Arena last night.

James finished with 26 points, nine rebounds, two assists and 10 turnovers — one rebound shy from a dubious triple-double.

As bad as they were in Game 1 — when the combined to shoot 15 for 47 and scored just 48 points — the Wizards’ Big Three of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler came to play last night.

Arenas was the best player on the court on this night, finishing with 30 points, six rebounds and six assists. Jamison, who made free throws down the stretch, finished with 21 points and seven rebounds, and Butler, despite foul trouble, had 21 points and nine assists.

“Coming into this game, we talked about being more energized, more enthusiastic and have more camaraderie, and that was the most important thing,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “All the things we didn’t see in the first game — outside of the stats — we just didn’t have enough energy and enthusiasm. We didn’t have that and that is the stuff that is going to get you out of a lot of bad situations and put you in a good one.”

The Wizards successfully avoided an identical situation to last season, when they dropped the first two games at Chicago in the first round. But the Wizards rallied under those adverse circumstances and won the series 4-2.

“With a guy like LeBron on the other side you know that you don’t want to go down 0-2,” said Arenas, who also finished with four steals. “So it was good for us to get this. Now we’re going home with homecourt advantage. The key is to make sure we don’t let up.”

Although they started off sluggish and even trailed by 15 points at one point in the first quarter, the Wizards played with an anger — from their coach on down — that hasn’t been seen from this team in some time.

Jordan often was demonstrative. But perhaps the most crucial play of the night was perhaps turned in by center Brendan Haywood.

With 3:47 left in the first quarter and the Wizards trailing by 12 — a deficit that would reach 15 in the first quarter before the Wizards rallied — Haywood committed a hard foul on James. Although Haywood did not know it at the time — and he even tried to prevent him from falling — the play seemed to ignite the Wizards.

“It wasn’t a hard foul, it wasn’t dirty,” Haywood said. “But LeBron is like Shaq. You have to foul him hard. It’s not like when you try to foul a guy like Larry Hughes. LeBron is a very big, strong player.”

Late in the game, James made a huge mistake when following a jump-ball in front of the Wizards’ basket. James, trying to keep the ball inbounds, flipped it back to Arenas, who scored and converted a free throw for and 85-77 Washington advantage.

Cleveland cut it to 85-80 on a pair of Drew Gooden free throws

Following a Cleveland timeout with 53.2 seconds left, Larry Hughes pulled the Cavaliers to within 85-82 when he drilled a short jumper.

However, at the other end, Hughes fouled Arenas with 25.5 seconds left and Arenas made both free throws for an 87-82 advantage. James then pulled Cleveland to within three at 87-84 with a pair of free throws with 20.7 seconds left.

On the next possession, Washington’s Billy Thomas missed a pair of free throws. But then Gilbert Arenas stole the ball from Anderson Varejao and passed it to Antawn Jamison. Jamison was fouled, and with the Wizards in the penalty situation Jamison sank both free throws for an 89-84 advantage and a Cleveland timeout with 9.7 seconds left.

When play resumed, James launched an errant 3-pointer that was rebounded by Jamison as time expired.

“It’s going to be a dogfight now,” said James, adding that he was not disappointed. “The series is not won in two games. Just because we didn’t mean the series was over. Now that they’ve won Game 2, that doesn’t mean the series is over. It’s a long series and now we have to go out there on the road and try to take care of business, just like they did in Game 2.”

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