- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

One of these days, perhaps, a team is going to get into the playoffs, lose the first three games of a series and defy the odds by winning four straight.

It just won’t be the 2006-07 Washington Wizards.

With a sold-out Verizon Center behind them in full support, the short-handed Wizards came up short again against Cleveland. They fell to the Cavaliers 97-90, becoming the latest team to fail to overcome a 3-0 deficit.

As with the three previous games of this series, the Wizards were competitive. In fact, they led at the end of the first half for the first time in the series. They also led at the end of the third quarter for the first time, holding a 67-66 advantage.

But the Cavaliers — who eliminated the Wizards on their floor for the second straight season — took control of the game late, again exploiting the absence of injured Wizards All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.

After shooting just 37.5 percent from the floor through three quarters, the Cavaliers made 58 percent of their shots in the fourth (11-for-19) and took the lead for good when former Wizards guard Larry Hughes nailed a 17-footer, putting his team up 81-80 with 5:20 left. Hughes scored 10 of the Cavaliers’ final 18 points.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan hadn’t talked about the shortcomings to his roster at any point over the last month, when Butler went down with a broken hand April 1 and Arenas was lost with a torn meniscus three days later.

But the losses obviously played a huge part in the Wizards winning just twice in their last 12 games, including the playoff sweep.

Guard Antonio Daniels, who filled in admirably for Arenas and put up three double-doubles during the series, finally admitted the injuries just became too much to overcome.

“To lose three All-Stars at different points of the season — and really at the time of the year when you really want to peak as a basketball team — that’s tough,” said Daniels, who finished with 13 points and 12 assists. “We obviously didn’t win the series. Like I’ve said all season long, you can’t measure a team on paper, and you can’t measure heart. And there is a lot of that in this locker room. We didn’t quit, and we were not going to quit.”

While nobody quit, center Brendan Haywood didn’t really seem to care as much about losing the series as Daniels and the rest of his teammates. Haywood, the only Wizards player who dressed but did not play, left the bench with a few seconds remaining in the game and waived his index finger in the air.

Antawn Jamison, who has been stellar on the court throughout the playoffs, stood tall again. This time he scored 31 points on 12-for-25 shooting. Jamison had 20 in the first half, but the lack of a supporting cast clearly caught up to him in the second half when he was just 3-for-10 from the floor.

While Jamison and Daniels played well, the same could not be said of Jarvis Hayes and DeShawn Stevenson, two players who never really adjusted to the added burden placed on them after the injuries to Arenas and Butler.

Stevenson, who likely will opt out of his contract this summer, was a scoreless 0-for-8 from the field and finished the series shooting just 9-for-46. Hayes, who will be a restricted free agent, was just 1-for-5 from the floor and finished with just five points. For the series, Hayes was just 15-for-46 from the field.

“I like the fact that we fought even when people counted us out. We never quit,” Jordan said. “We have good character, we have a locker room that was solid and we have good leadership in Antawn and Antonio. It is a terrific locker room because we come and give good effort every night.”

This might have been true, but good effort alone doesn’t get it done in the NBA, especially when the opposition is playing as consistently as the Cavaliers did throughout the series.

Again they were not spectacular, but they were the better team. LeBron James led the Cavaliers, who will play the winner of the Toronto-New Jersey series, with 31 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas finished with 20 points and 19 rebounds, and Drew Gooden added 14 points and eight boards.

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