- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Washington Wizards are sitting on a bed in a dump of an apartment in South Philly with their girl Adrian. They can’t sleep. They are about to face Apollo Creed, who is expected to give them a terrible beating.

The Wizards tell Adrian, “I can’t do it. … I can’t beat him.”

Adrian says, “What are we going to do?”

“All I wanna do is go the distance,” the Wizards say. “Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed.”

Now, LeBron and Company, otherwise known as the Cleveland Cavaliers, may not exactly be Apollo Creed to the rest of the NBA. But to a Wizards team without two of its best players, any NBA playoff team is Apollo Creed, and yes, they can’t win. They can’t beat the Cavaliers.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t make a fight out of it. Maybe not go the distance since the distance is seven games. But finding a way to win one playoff game at Verizon Center will come close to qualifying as a Rocky-like effort. Win two at home and it may be “Animal House” territory, as in Bluto’s declaration that “this could be the greatest night of our lives.”

In fact, a few wins like that might be better than if Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler were healthy and playing — in a weird, warped Wizards-like sort of way.

There is a good chance that even with Arenas and Butler, the Wizards may have been a one-and-done team in the first round, particularly if they had played well enough to move up in the seedings and played either the Bulls or the Heat. Either team likely would have dispatched the Wizards in the first round, and that would have been a disappointment.

But to win one or two of the playoff games at Verizon Center against these odds would be inspirational.

The Wizards are a regular-season team whose DNA doesn’t match up to playoff basketball. At this time of year, most teams slow down the game — in other words, play defense, that terrible concept Eddie Jordan tried to force on Arenas earlier this season. The Wizards rely on three good offensive players — Arenas, Butler and Antawn Jamison — to apply offensive pressure, but that isn’t enough this time of year. They don’t have the defensive pressure to apply, even minimally, to advance.

OK, this team isn’t tough enough, period.

This team, though, may be a different story. This team — the decimated, wounded Wizards — has no choice other than be tough if it wants to be competitive against LeBron and Company. The Wizards don’t have the talent to call on, so to win just one game, they simply will have to be tougher than LeBron and Company or else get steamrolled.

“We’re just going to put our hard hats on and get ready for a dogfight series,” Jarvis Hayes said.

That’s what I’m talking about.

“We know it’s going to be tough, and we know that there are going to be people out there who don’t think we can win a game,” Jamison said. “That’s OK. I know that nobody in this locker room thinks that way.”

Well, here’s how they can prove it. Here’s how they can show they are ready for a dogfight series.

Tomorrow, early in Game 1, when the opportunity calls for it, put LeBron on his back, and keep him there if need be. Play him hard. Show his highness early that he is not going to have the run of the court without paying a price. If it means incurring the wrath of the officials and sending LeBron to the foul line over and over again, so be it. Right now, when it comes down to it, all the Wizards really have is bodies. They might as well use them, as many as they need.

That means if LeBron dares to walk up to any Wizards player while they are at the foul line and whisper in his ear, “If you miss these, the game’s over” or something along those lines — as he did to Arenas in last year’s playoff series — someone needs to step in and make sure he doesn’t do it again.

If that happens, then maybe, just maybe, the personality of this team could change in the process.

You might hear how the Wizards will have to play the role of Cinderella in this series. Like Hayes suggested, the Wizards need to prepare for a dogfight, not a fairy tale.

Cinderella was a girl who relied on a fairy godmother and a glass slipper. The Wizards need to be junkyard dogs. They need some Iron Sheik boots.

They need to be ready when they are sitting on their stools near the end of the fight to say, “Cut me, Mick.”

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