- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

When the Washington Wizards went into their first-round playoff series without All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, the Cleveland Cavaliers held a decided advantage.

Now with a commanding 3-0 lead in the first-round series after a 98-92 win in Game 3, the Cavaliers have a more ominous element in their corner.

History.

No team in NBA history has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series.

“I could care less about basketball history,” Wizards guard Antonio Daniels said after his second double-double of the series (20 points, 13 assists and one turnover). “We can’t control that. What we can control is the mentality that we come out with on Monday.

“And you know what? You will not hear me say this series is over. This series is far from over as far as I’m concerned. It’s the first team to four, not the first team to three.”

After falling behind by 17 points at halftime and allowing the Cavaliers to shoot 56.5 percent, the Wizards played an inspired third quarter that began with 21-4 run. At the end of the quarter, the Cavaliers lead 77-75.

The Wizards tied the game twice in the fourth quarter at 79-79 and 81-81, but never held a lead.

With 37 seconds left, center Etan Thomas hit one of two free throws to cut Cleveland’s lead to 93-90.

But Cleveland finished off the Wizards when LeBron James (30 points, nine assists) fed a wide-open Sasha Pavlovic (11 points, five assists) for a 3-pointer in front of Washington’s bench for a 96-90 advantage with 25.4 seconds left.

The Wizards scored just one more basket the rest of the way, a layup from Daniels with 0.4 seconds left.

The Cavaliers shot 50 percent for the game and again manhandled the Wizards on the boards, outrebounding them 48-33.

For the Wizards, they now have to worry about the health of Daniels. Now their second-best player, Daniels twisted his left ankle trying to stop a drive by James late in the fourth quarter.

“Hurts like [heck],” he said later.

The Wizards got another monster effort out of forward Antawn Jamison, who had a game-high 38 points on 15-for-27 shooting and 11 rebounds.

But Jamison and Daniels were unable to cover the team’s other shortcomings. DeShawn Stevenson, who has shot poorly all series, shot just 3-for-14. He had seven points.

And the center combination of Thomas (three points and nine rebounds) and Brendan Haywood (no points or rebounds in 10 minutes) again proved to be inadequate.

All five Cavaliers starters scored in double figures, and once again the Wizards had no answer for Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who finished with 24 points and eight rebounds.

And despite the 21-4 run by the Wizards, the Cavaliers are thinking sweep.

“We didn’t want that big of a run,” James said. “We have to clean up some things. We got a little lax, and you can’t do that especially on somebody else’s home court. But one thing that didn’t happen was we didn’t let them get the lead and I think that helped us mentally.”

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan hasn’t talked much about playing the series so shorthanded until last night when, for the first time, he talked about moral victories instead of actual ones.

“I told our guys they should applaud themselves for their spirit and their effort. We’ve played these games for the spirit of the game and that’s what our guys gave,” he said. “You play these games for the spirit of the game and that’s what our guys gave. They gave their heart and soul, their blood, sweat and tears. We’re short on some people and some talent but for people that watch and respect the game, that’s what we did.”

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