- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

CLEVELAND — Cleveland Cavaliers guard Larry Hughes knows the Washington Wizards team in the playoffs is nothing like the Washington Wizards team that qualified for the playoffs.

Washington limped into the postseason without its two All-Stars — Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. For the Cavaliers, who hold a 1-0 advantage in the first-round series, the plan is to jump on the injury-riddled team early in Game 2 tonight.

“We are going to look to just blow these guys out of the water because they are competitors and they will fight,” Hughes said. “They have also a great player left in Antawn [Jamison]. We just have to stay steady and stay focused. We got one game down. We have to get No. 2.”

Cleveland must fight overconfidence, knowing it is a prohibitive favorite against an undermanned group that has played like a lottery team of late. Washington entered the playoffs in a freefall after losing Arenas to a knee injury and Butler to a broken hand.

Still, Cavaliers superstar LeBron James cautioned against feeling any sense of entitlement against their undermanned opponents.

“We can’t feel that way,” said James, who will play despite missing practice yesterday with a sprained ankle. “We can’t think about they are missing guys and missing two of their best players. We have to approach every game like we did in Game 1.”

While the Cavaliers did not exactly blow out the Wizards in the opening game, they won comfortably. Cleveland led by six points early in the fourth quarter before 7-foot-3 center Zydrunas Ilgauskas (16 points, 11 in the final quarter) took over in the post and turned a reasonably close game into a 15-point win.

Ilgauskas dominated Washington’s 6-10 center Etan Thomas and also worked over the 6-9 Jamison as the Wizards tried a smaller lineup. One conspicuous absence late in the game was Washington’s 7-foot center Brendan Haywood, who had success defending Ilgauskas in the past.

“Hopefully, he sits out more,” said Hughes, who had a team-high 27 points in the opener. “We would love to have [Ilgauskas] do his thing for 48 minutes. We have no problem with it.”

Cleveland held Washington to 36.7 percent shooting and only 15 points in the fourth quarter. Jamison (28 points) kept the Wizards close before being shut down in the final quarter, when he had only three points on 1-for-7 shooting.

“We started doubling him,” Cavaliers forward Drew Gooden said of Jamison. “He’s the only one there that was averaging 20 points in the regular season. He’s the motor that gets them going. He did that in the first half. We doubled him in the second half, and it kind of worked. We made other guys try to beat us.”

And without Arenas or Butler in the lineup, that scenario was unlikely Sunday and remains a long shot tonight and for the rest of the series.

Cleveland, again, will focus on Jamison. Its other — and bigger — challenge will be staying interested in a matchup with an inferior opponent whose main hope is to catch the Cavaliers off guard.

“We talked about it once,” said Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, whose team lost to similarly depleted teams like Boston and New York in the regular season. “I don’t think we have to keep talking about it. I think we have mature, grown men in our locker room. We all know what is at stake.”

Brown also hoped his players were paying attention when Golden State stole Game 1 in Dallas and Denver won its opener at San Antonio on Sunday night.

“I have been in situations where teams come in undermanned or teams are even lower seeds and get upsets,” Brown said. “Lower-seeded teams, where in the fans’ eyes and in the media’s eyes seemed to think they had no chance, but the ball games still have to be played.”

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