- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 28, 2007

Teams used to hate playing at Verizon Center.

They traveled to the District and the Wizards put up triple-digit performances on them and they left singing the praises of an offense that at times referred to itself as the Phoenix Suns of the East.

That wasn’t so long ago. In fact, it was last season, when the Wizards went 26-15 at Verizon Center.

But things have taken a turn for the worse on the home court for the Wizards, who will try to avoid falling behind 3-0 today in their first-round series with Cleveland today as the series moves to Verizon Center.

Just about a month ago, the Wizards looked to be on the verge of eclipsing their Verizon Center record for home wins (29).

But the Wizards closed the season with a six-game home losing streak — the longest home losing streak to close the season by any team in the league — and they were badly outplayed in that stretch.

Visiting teams shot 48 percent and limited the Wizards to just 41.2 percent shooting. And to find their last victory at home you have to go back exactly one full month, when they needed 28 points out of DeShawn Stevenson in order to squeak past lottery-bound Philadelphia 111-108 on March 28.

Still, despite the fact that teams have thrived at Verizon Center of late, the Wizards talked with confidence and optimism yesterday when the home floor was the subject.

“There is a comfort level being at home,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said after what some players described as a good practice at Verizon Center. “When you go on the road for two playoff games, it’s tough. You come home and now it’s your turn with the home court. I know we’re down 0-2 but lets see if we can even things out. Being at home does a lot for your confidence level.”

If the Wizards are going to become the 12th team in 194 best-of-seven series to come back after a 2-0 deficit, they must find their offense. Through the first two games of the series the Wizards are making just 39.2 percent of their field goals.

Unfortunately for the Wizards, their poor shooting percentage is largely the by-product of the miserable combined shooting of starters Stevenson (6-for-24) and Jarvis Haves (8-for-28).

Conversely, Cleveland has made 46.2 percent of its field goals and is averaging 103 points a game in the series.

Additionally, Washington must start giving Antawn Jamison some rebounding help. Jamison is averaging 12.0 rebounds a game, but he’s about the only player going to the glass, where the Cavaliers have out-rebounded them by an average of 12 a game.

Jordan didn’t seem worried about his team after practice yesterday. He feels his players can play better than they have in the first two games but acknowledges that the team must rebound better offensively.

“I want DeShawn to shoot well and Jarvis to keep defending and rebounding,” Jordan said. “It is not about any player, it is about a collective group of guys playing hard, executing and knowing that this is a seven-game series.”

While the 2-0 deficit is bad enough, failure to win tonight would pretty much signal the end of the Wizards’ season. No team in NBA history has recovered to win a series after dropping the first three games.

“This is the most important game. It’s pivotal,” Jamison said. “History speaks for itself. No team has ever come back from being down 3-0 to win a series. We don’t want to give them more confidence, and a win [today] would make a series out of this. They have done their job defending their home court, and it is time for us to do the same thing.”

The Wizards are one of those teams to have come back from a 2-0 deficit. In 2005 they dropped two games on the road at Chicago and rallied, taking the next four games to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

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