- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Washington Wizards entered last night’s game against the Indiana Pacers needing two wins and two Cleveland Cavaliers losses to clinch homecourt advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The Wizards did their part, beating the visiting Pacers 117-110 last night at Verizon Center. But they couldn’t get the help they needed from the Philadelphia 76ers, who lost to the Cavaliers 91-90 last night in Cleveland.

The Wizards are ensured fifth place in the playoffs and will open the first round in Cleveland for the third straight year either Saturday or Sunday.

“This is an opportunity that we have to relish,” Wizards guard Antonio Daniels said. “We have to be very excited at this opportunity. Three years in a row at Cleveland. It’s become a rivalry. We’re obviously excited. We need to go into the playoffs healthy, and we’re capable of anything.”

For a brief moment, the Wizards thought they still had a chance at homecourt advantage. As they headed to the locker room, it was announced over the public address system that the 76ers had won 90-89 and that a Washington win tomorrow against Orlando and a Cleveland loss against Detroit would give the Wizards the fourth seed.

But the final play of the Cavaliers-76ers game was reviewed, and the officials said Cleveland’s Devin Brown had been fouled. The 76ers were brought out of the locker room and back onto the floor only to watch Brown make two foul shots with 0.2 seconds left to give his team the victory and kill the Wizards’ homecourt hopes.

“I got off the court, and someone told me Cleveland had lost and felt that much better,” Wizards guard Roger Mason Jr. said with a grin. “I come into the locker room, and they were shooting two free throws. But it doesn’t matter. We know we’re going to be playing them in the playoffs, we’re getting healthy, we feel good about ourselves and we’re ready.”

Mason had reason to feel good after coming off the bench to score 31 points, including a career-high seven 3-pointers.

Mason led a group of reserves that outscored the Wizards’ starters 70-47 while helping Washington to its fifth win in six games. Rookie Nick Young added 14 points off the bench, and third-year forward/center Andray Blatche added 11 points and 11 rebounds. Rookie forward Dominic McGuire scored a career-high nine points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Rookie center Oleksiy Pecherov added five points.

In all, six Wizards scored in double digits as Washington improved to 43-38, eliminating the Pacers from the postseason in the process.

The win came despite the absences of Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan held Arenas out of last night’s contest as a precautionary move after the guard, who missed 66 games while recovering from knee surgery, played in a back-to-back set Friday and Saturday for the first time since he returned to action April 2.

Butler was still experiencing soreness in his right knee, which he bruised Friday night against the Pistons. He missed Saturday’s win over Philadelphia, but Jordan said he hoped to get the two-time All-Star back for the regular-season finale.

The Wizards led from start to finish and had the luxury of resting starters Antawn Jamison, Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Brendan Haywood and Darius Songaila for significant stretches.

Washington led 66-54 at halftime before Indiana cut the lead to 77-67 with just under eight minutes left to play.

Then came a 14-3 charge that extended the Wizards’ lead to 91-70 with 3:38 left in the third quarter.

Mason led the way, scoring 13 points — including three 3-pointers — in the third quarter alone, and Washington held a 98-81 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

“He made some tough shots,” Indiana’s Mike Dunleavy Jr. said. “The Wizards have a group of guys that can do some damage when their main guys are out.”

The Wizards eased up, however, letting the Pacers (35-46) outscore them 29-19 in the fourth quarter and pull within 113-110 on Marquis Daniels’ 3-pointer with 17.6 seconds left. But McGuire hit two free throws to extend the Wizards’ lead to five points. Mason knocked down two more foul shots to seal the victory.

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