- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

CLEVELAND — The Washington Wizards have been trying to forget the way last season ended, with three one-point losses to Cleveland in the playoffs, a feat that had never happened before, as the Cavaliers eliminated Washington in six games.

But all those memories of not being able to get one stop, one key turnover or one important rebound at a crucial juncture came flooding back last night. The Wizards lost 97-94 to the Cavaliers in the season opener at Quicken Loans Arena in front of 20,562, blowing several chances to tie the game or take the lead in the final moments.

“It was almost like we stepped into a [darn] time machine and went back [six] months,” reserve guard Antonio Daniels lamented. “I didn’t know that was possible. We did a lot of things that we’ve done in training camp. We denied, we helped each other out. But when we needed a stop down the stretch we couldn’t get it.”

What they also didn’t get was the usual 29 points a game they have grown accustomed to getting from Gilbert Arenas. Arenas struggled on his way to just seven points on the night, missing his first nine shots from the floor and finishing 2-for-12 from the field.

“Nobody wants to come out on opening day like that, but we did some good things out there,” Arenas said. “But it’s hard to think about being aggressive when every time you think about driving you’re getting called for an offensive foul.”

After picking up his third foul early in the second quarter, Arenas — guarded by former teammate Larry Hughes — never really got into the action. Hughes, meanwhile, finished with a game-high 27 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals.

“Larry knows Gilbert’s game, and he takes pride in defending him,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “He did a very good job. That said, we still had some chances to win at the end.”

LeBron James, more responsible than anyone for the Wizards’ first-round exit in last season, finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for the Cavaliers.

Cleveland outrebounded Washington 50-33 on the night, including 16-9 in offensive rebounds.

Down by 10 points at the start of the fourth quarter, the Wizards went to a small lineup that promptly went on a 17-7 run that tied the game 86-86 with 3:56 to play.

From that point on the Wizards and the Cavaliers traded baskets — a 3 by James for a 3 by Arenas, a layup by Caron Butler for a layup by James.

But the Cavaliers went ahead for good when James’ finger roll with 49 seconds to play gave them a 95-93 lead.

With their team down by three points in the final 20 seconds, Antawn Jamison (20 points) and Jarvis Hayes both had open looks at 3-pointers but failed to convert. Hayes missed with six seconds left to play, and Jamison missed his attempt four seconds later.

“I had a good look,” Hayes said. “And I would take it again if the opportunity for that one is there.”

Jordan had no problem with the shots at the end of the game either.

“No, they were good looks. That’s what you want to get in those situations,” Jordan said.

Etan Thomas, the team’s newly minted center, looked good in his debut in that role, finishing with 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting.

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