- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 22, 2007

Antonio Daniels has spent the past few days reminding anyone he can that the Washington Wizards aren’t expected to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers in their first-round playoff series, which begins today.

The always animated Daniels has been repeating predictions from several experts, many of whom don’t see the Wizards winning a game, let alone reaching the second round.

One, Danny Sheridan, has No. 7 seed Washington as 30-1 underdogs to upset No. 2 seed Cleveland — and is giving No. 8 seed Golden State a better chance to upset top-seeded Dallas, which won a league-best 67 games.

“If you can’t draw inspiration from that then something is wrong with you,” said Daniels, who has appeared in a team-high 65 playoff games. “If you can’t draw inspiration from somebody constantly telling you that you can’t succeed, you can’t win for whatever the circumstances are, you’re in the wrong profession. Our mind-set is that we are going to play harder and that we can win the series. It’s that simple.”

Cleveland beat Washington in six games in the first round last season, with the Wizards losing three of those games by one point. That team included a healthy Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.

This one does not.

All-Stars Arenas (knee surgery) and Butler (broken hand) are sidelined with season-ending injuries.

Still, don’t anticipate any pity from the Cavaliers. Instead, they plan to kick the Wizards while they’re down.

Former Wizards guard Larry Hughes said he was “not at all” disappointed Arenas and Butler wouldn’t be playing.

“In the regular season, when we played them, you like to get their best shot,” Hughes said. “But at this point, any advantage you can get you take it. It’s unfortunate for those guys, but we have to take advantage of it.”

The Wizards, missing a combined 47.5 points a game from Arenas and Butler, lost the season series with Cleveland 2-1.

Hughes said Cleveland lost some games this season to ailing teams without key players, notably Boston, Philadelphia and Charlotte. That is not a trend he thinks will be repeated.

“We’ll just look at our season and how we lost against teams with missing players and teams under .500, and even teams with no playoffs hopes and that [memory] should keep us going into the right direction,” Hughes said. “We have an attitude that anything can happen and we realize that. We have to win four games and that’s the bottom line.”

Of course, Cleveland is the favorite mainly because of LeBron James, the only player to average at least 25 points, six rebounds and six assists this season. He helped the Cavaliers secure the No. 2 seed with four straight victories.

Washington, meanwhile, finished the season with eight losses in 10 games, narrowly avoiding the No. 8 seed by beating a horrid Indiana team on the last day of the season.

Still, the Wizards can draw inspiration knowing a No. 7 seed has beaten a No. 2 four times. Most recently, the New York Knicks beat the Miami Heat 3-2 in 1998.

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