- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

CLEVELAND — Even the most diehard fans must realize the inevitability of the Cleveland Cavaliers-Washington Wizards series.

Indeed, it’s over.

The Cavaliers made sure of that last night at Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland shook poor shooting in the first quarter and then responded with another well-rounded performance to defeat the Wizards 109-102 and, in the process, take a 2-0 lead over in their first-round series, which moves to Verizon Center on Saturday for Game 3.

The Wizards’ situation is dire. Dating to the regular season, they have won just twice in their last 10 games.

Plus, teams that have lost the first two games of a series are just 11-193 overall. But the Wizards pulled off the feat two seasons ago, when they dropped the first two games at Chicago — which had significant injuries — and recovered to win the series 4-2.

The Cavaliers led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter. And while the Wizards closed with a flourish in the fourth, cutting the lead to 105-102, the Cavaliers cemented the victory with four straight free throws.

After shooting just 9-for-26 from the field in the first, Cleveland shot .534 (31-for-58) the rest of the game.

Antawn Jamison led the Wizards with a game-high 31 points and 10 rebounds, his second double-double of series. Antonio Daniels had 11 points and 11 assists.

But the other three starters, Jarvis Hayes (five points), DeShawn Stevenson (eight) and Etan Thomas (nine) combined to shoot just 8-for-30 from the field.

The Wizards did get some good play from their bench.

Brendan Haywood finished with 13 points, and Darius Songaila added 13 points and eight rebounds. Roger Mason added 10.

But their inability to play playoff-level defense for sustained stretches doomed the Wizards.

“I feel like we go from a quarter where we play defense like we’re supposed to and then we just let people get off and we can’t allow that,” Stevenson said. “One minute Drew [Gooden] is scoring, the next minute you look up and [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas is scoring. You can’t win a playoff game like that. There’s no way. You can’t win like that.”

LeBron James led the Cavaliers with 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

But Gooden was the player who confounded and ultimately killed the Wizards’ confidence. Gooden scored a career playoff-high 24 points — 15 in the final six minutes of the second quarter. He also finished with 14 rebounds to help stake the Cavaliers to a 56-38 edge in rebounding.

Larry Hughes added 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and Ilgauskas finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.

James, who played on a sprained left ankle, said the Cavaliers are not thinking about sweeping Washington in the next two games.

“Nah, it’s not about that. It’s about taking one game at a time and we’re not overconfident right now because it’s a long series,” James said. “We have to go and prepare ourselves the best way we can to take Game 3 and take care of Game 4 when it happens. But at the end of the day, if we play well and present ourselves with the best way to win a ball game, we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win and that’s the only thing that we worry about.”

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan deployed some interesting lineups early on. One that featured mostly reserves helped the Wizards take a 37-30 lead, when Mason converted a four-point play with 7:03 left in the first half.

Then, Gooden began his dominant stretch.

Gooden floated to the outside against the Wizards, sinking jumpers from 11, 14 and 16 feet.

Behind Gooden, the Cavaliers outscored the Wizards 21-11 to the end the half for a 51-48 lead at the break.

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