- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Antonio Daniels isn’t buying it.

A theory is making its way around Washington that the Wizards simply can’t stand success, and that’s why they are only tied 2-2 in their first-round playoff series with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Those who embrace this contention point to the Wizards’ blown lead in Game 3, which cost them a chance to be up 3-1 heading into Game 5 tomorrow in Cleveland.

Fresh from their big win in Game 2, the Wizards looked like they might take control in Game 3. Instead, they squandered a 14-point advantage at Verizon Center to lose the homecourt advantage they stole from the Cavaliers in the second game in Cleveland.

The Wizards played poorly in the first half of Game 4 on Sunday, falling behind by 11 at halftime. But they rallied to win 106-96 behind 20 fourth-quarter points from Gilbert Arenas, who shook off a nightmarish start (1-for-9 shooting) to score 28 of his team-high 34 points in the second half.

“Throughout the playoffs, throughout the regular season, there are different swings to the game,” Daniels said. “In spite of what it might look like from the sidelines or whatever it may be, guys are leaving it out on the floor. That’s all you can ask of a guy, that’s all you can ask of your teammates — that when you take to the floor that whatever you have inside, guys are leaving it out there, and I honestly feel that guys are doing that.”

Daniels probably is right. So often in these best-of-seven series, much is made about the pressure being shifted from one team to the other, and that’s still true today.

The Cavaliers need a win at home tomorrow to put the Wizards within one game of elimination.

Meanwhile, the Wizards could be thinking that if they lose tomorrow, they can always return home and win Game 6 to force a Game 7, in which anything can happen.

It is often said that a series doesn’t begin until the home team suffers a loss. Well, both teams have lost at home, making this series a best-of-three.

Game 5 will go a long way toward determining the outcome in this series because the loser will have to win two straight games — the Wizards would have to win a Game 7 on the road — to advance.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan is quick to point out that the Wizards are a much more happy-go-lucky team than the New Jersey team with which he reached the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons as an assistant.

That team had Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin, players who played with scowls most of the time, whether it was in the postseason or regular season.

Not the Wizards, though.

Jordan says he has a hard time taking the pulse of this team because its mood hardly ever changes in the locker room. No matter the circumstances, there is always chatter and laughter.

“It starts with Gil and Antonio,” Jordan said. “We just don’t have that bulldog personality on the team, that enforcer. Caron [Butler] is the closest to that. Now they are mentally strong and good teammates, but there is a difference. You walk into a locker room with some bulldogs, and you feel it. They’re loud, they’re intense, they’re growling. But this team they’re loose, they’re joking, yet when they go out there they get into it.”

That explains why Jordan was easy going when he entered Washington’s locker room at halftime of Game 4 with the Wizards down by 11 points and unable to stop LeBron James (38 points) from doing whatever he wanted.

Jordan said he didn’t call a play early in the second half, and the strategy worked.

Jared Jeffries said the message was sent. He added that the circumstances — faced with potentially falling behind 3-1 in the series — snapped the Wizards out of their catatonic-like state.

“We play our best when the situation has been like that,” said Jeffries, who had a team-high 11 rebounds. “We’ve done it all year — come out and played like a caged animal. We come out swinging. We’re a resilient team.”

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