- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2007

Following a practice that required less than an hour to complete, Washington Wizards guard DeShawn Stevenson quickly exited the team’s locker room.

“My mom’s in town, and I’m going to take her to church,” Stevenson said.

What might he pray for?

“Shoot, to get my shot back,” said Stevenson, who is shooting just 23.7 percent in a first-round playoff series against Cleveland. “How about that. That’s what I want back.”

With the Cavaliers holding a nearly insurmountable lead in their best-of-seven series — no NBA team has come back to win a series after trailing 3-0 — it might not have been a bad idea to have the Wizards follow Stevenson to the altar.

The Wizards, who play host to Game 4 tonight at Verizon Center, often frown on moral victories. But moral victories might be their only kind this series.

Stevenson and his teammates now talk about pride, about not wanting to be swept on their home floor, where they have lost a season-high seven straight games.

As a result, the Wizards are using anything as a motivational ploy — like the 17-point halftime deficit the team overcame in the third quarter.

“It would be a big pride thing,” Stevenson said about a victory today. “Nobody wants to get swept, especially on your homecourt. We have to play hard like we did in the third quarter, play together and not get swept.”

The Wizards have fought with what they have left, a roster that is without injured All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.

Antawn Jamison has played as well as any player in the playoffs, averaging 32.3 points and 11.7 rebounds. Antonio Daniels, averaging 13.3 points and 11.7 assists, has run the team’s offense more efficiently than at any point this season. The Wizards’ 7.7 turnovers a game are the fewest among playoff teams.

But even if the Wizards extend the series to Game 5 in Cleveland on Wednesday, tonight’s game could be the last at Verizon Center this season.

The Wizards are shooting 40.9 percent, compared to 47.4 for the Cavaliers, and have been outrebounded by an average of 13 a game.

Cleveland, aiming for the first sweep in franchise history, has avoided any bouts of cockiness — perhaps because it has struggled to put teams away.

The Cavaliers are 5-10 in close-out games. In their last two such games against Detroit last season in the second round, the Cavaliers lost Games 6 and 7 after leading 3-2.

Former Wizards guard Larry Hughes is second on the Cavaliers in scoring (19.0) in the playoffs. Hughes said he feels no sympathy for the Wizards because “I’m on this side now.”

Most importantly, Hughes knows a victory would allow the Cavaliers to rest between now and their next series against the winner of the Toronto-New Jersey series.

“You’re not so much looking at the sweep part of it,” he said. “Just coming in here and winning the series would be good for the team. But I think it’s big to win games when you can. It’s better to win early rather than late because you don’t want to drag anything out. You want to win and start getting ready for the next team.”

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