- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2007

Antawn Jamison knows how much has changed in a year.

Last spring, the fifth-seeded Washington Wizards were a chic pick to knock off the fourth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. The Wizards stole Game 2 and homecourt advantage but ultimately lost the series 4-2 after dropping back-to-back overtime games by a point.

This spring, the seventh-seeded Wizards (41-41) are without injured All-Stars Gilbert Arenas (knee surgery) and Caron Butler (broken hand) and are a chic pick to be swept in their first-round, best-of-seven series, which begins Sunday at Cleveland.

But Jamison isn’t buying talk of an early exit, and he doesn’t want his teammates to, either.

“I’m ready. If they are not with me, they don’t even need to be in this locker room,” Jamison said. “I’m not worried about [Antonio Daniels] or Etan [Thomas] and DeShawn [Stevenson]. These young guys, there is no time for the deer in the headlights stuff, and I don’t expect it to happen. If you don’t believe you can win there is no need to be playing.”

The Wizards have won just four of their last 16 games, and they spent much of that skid trying to rework a rotation Wizards coach Eddie Jordan thought would have been fine-tuned by then.

And though they qualified for the playoffs for the third straight year for the first time since making five straight trips from 1984 to 1988, the Wizards have looked like a lottery team for the better part of the last five weeks.

Still, Jordan is telling anyone who will listen that his team won’t just show up and roll over.

“I don’t want us to be too loose,” Jordan said. “I want us to be disciplined and play hard. I want to stick to the defensive plan and try to be physical and protect the paint. I don’t want us to be too loose and not just come in and be happy-go lucky. I want us to be a real player in this thing.”

The Wizards and Cavaliers (50-32) met three times, with Cleveland taking the season series 2-1.

When the Wizards were at full strength they split two games, with Cleveland winning 97-94 at Quicken Loans Arena. When they met again at Verizon Center on Nov. 18, the Wizards won 111-99 behind Arenas’ 45 points.

But the Wizards, who held their first postseason practice at Verizon Center yesterday, didn’t watch game footage of either of those games. Instead, Jordan began the team’s preparation by showing footage of the April 6 meeting that the Cavaliers won 99-94.

Jordan wanted his team watching that game because Arenas and Butler did not play, as they won’t in this series.

“That’s a good point of reference because we can throw out everything before that we did against them with Gil and Caron,” Jordan said. “I wanted them to see what works and what does not work against those guys.”

What will present the stickiest problem for the Wizards, of course, is how they will deal with LeBron James. Last season in the first round, James was unguardable. He shot 51 percent from the floor and averaged 36 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists a game.

Jordan acknowledged that the Cavaliers have the series’ biggest star, but he said the key is to make sure the Wizards don’t get too preoccupied with James.

“You just want to limit his touches. You don’t want him taking advantage of every opportunity,” Jordan said. “At the same time you don’t want him making his teammates better than their limits.”

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