- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Washington Wizards find themselves in a manageable situation. But they know that another game full of self-inflicted drama could spell desperation.

After blowing a 14-point lead and scoring 20 fewer points in the second half than they did in the first during Friday’s 97-96 loss to Cleveland, the Wizards — who trail the Cavaliers 2-1 in the best-of-seven series — admit a defeat today could put them in too deep of a hole.

“It is,” Wizards forward Antawn Jamison said when asked about his team’s must-win situation. “You can’t put it any clearer than that — this is a must-win game.

“If we win tomorrow this is a three-game series,” Jamison said. “They have the momentum now and they are feeling good about themselves. They have their swagger and we have to do whatever it takes to get it back.”

Despite their depiction as a bunch of non-tested playoff players, the Cavaliers yesterday sounded as acutely aware of the magnitude of today’s game as did the Wizards.

Cavaliers starting point guard Eric Snow has appeared in more playoff games than anyone in this series and the veteran knows that his team can’t let up now with a chance to put the Wizards in a 3-1 hole.

“They just want to focus in on Game 4 and they can’t worry about anything else but making the proper adjustments and winning this game right now,” Snow said of the Wizards’ mission. “Trust me, they don’t want this to go back to Cleveland 3-1. I know that is their focus.”

Speaking of focus, it was Cleveland that exhibited the most when it usurped the home-court advantage it gave away in losing Game 2 last Tuesday.

On top of overcoming a double-digit lead in Game 3, the Cavaliers blocked out the noise generated in sold-out Verizon Center and dominated in a number of key categories.

They committed seven turnovers in the first half, yet finished with just 12 for the entire game. Washington, meanwhile, committed 18 turnovers.

And while the Wizards got sloppy and started rushing shots once they got the lead, Cleveland remained measured in its offense and solid defensively. They took shots within the framework of their offense and executed coach Mike Brown’s game plan.

That said, Brown sees the Wizards as a resilient team and expects them to play harder than they have at any point in this series today.

“That team is not going to roll over at this stage in the series, I can promise you that,” Brown said. “They have guys who know what this is about and they recognize that right now this game — every game, for that matter — is crucial. I expect a great effort out of them.

“In that sense, the real question is how will we come out? Will we meet the challenge? That’s what playoff basketball is about?”

One player the Wizards will need a better effort from today is their captain, Jamison. Jamison, who averaged 20.5 points a game during the regular season, has struggled through three games, averaging just 15.3 points and shooting 37.5 percent from the field.

Jamison knows he can’t continue to play the way he has been playing if his team is to even things at 2-2.

“I haven’t been playing up to my ability; I haven’t been as aggressive as I need to be,” Jamison said. “But I’m confident this team will rally, and I will be more aggressive. Like I said — this is a must-win game.”



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