- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2008

CLEVELAND — Another Wizards-Cavaliers playoff game, another Cleveland victory.

The Washington Wizards fell to the Cleveland Cavaliers 93-86 yesterday, their seventh straight playoff loss to LeBron James and Co. since May 3, 2006.

The Wizards had their chances to steal Game 1 in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They took advantage of four scoring droughts by the Cavaliers, but each time they failed to sustain the momentum and allowed Cleveland to come back.

The last rally sealed the game.

After allowing the Cavaliers to erase a four-point lead and take an 80-75 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Wizards tied it 82-82 on a 3-pointer by DeShawn Stevenson and then went up 84-82 on a reverse layup by Gilbert Arenas with 4:38 left.

Then the Wizards missed 10 straight shots — including two open 3-pointers and a 14-footer by Antawn Jamison, three jump shots and a layup by Arenas and a putback by center Brendan Haywood.

“They were open shots and shots that I normally make,” Jamison said. “I felt very comfortable, but I am going to do everything possible to make sure I am ready for Game 2. It’s disappointing on that end because you had an opportunity. … Down the stretch, we just didn’t convert.

The Cavaliers, however, went on an 11-0 run — the first six by James, who scored a game-high 32 points on 12-for-19 shooting — to go up in the best-of-seven series.

“Tonight was just one game,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “Is it a broken record? To a certain degree it is because LeBron can get to the basket and get you the free throw or score. He then draws double teams and if [point guard] Delonte West gets one shot out of four or five, that’s the difference in the fourth quarter.”

Said Arenas: “It was important for both teams. They missed three, and we missed three to build our lead. We got good looks. Antawn missed two great 3s, so we could’ve been up eight or been where we were. LeBron got two free throws and tied the game up, and from there, he took over.”

Arenas, playing in his sixth game after missing 66 while recovering from knee surgery, led the Wizards with 24 points off the bench — 14 of them in the first half. He entered the game with 3:41 left in the first quarter and airballed his first attempt. Then he closed out the period with two 3-pointers, the second a 35-footer with time running out.

After hitting two more 3-pointers in the second quarter, Arenas went 3-for-8 the rest of the game, his last four misses the most costly.

“It usually happens since I’ve come back,” Arenas explained. “I’ll start off hot in the first half and cool off in the second half. It comes from sitting. They’re trying to manage my minutes, and it’s kind of difficult to get my rhythm.”

Cleveland got into foul trouble, putting the Wizards in the bonus for the final 7:24 of the game. But Washington didn’t take advantage of the situation. Instead of driving to the basket to draw fouls, the Wizards settled for jump shots that weren’t falling.

“We didn’t keep the scoring pace. We didn’t get to the basket,” Jordan said. “We’ve been together longer than their team. But in our recent play, we haven’t been together. Caron [Butler] has been out. Gilbert has been out. So we’re still trying to find that rhythm. In my mind, we have the core group together longer, and we know that. But we haven’t played together. Guys have been out of practice. It’s no excuse. Guys have been out of practice, and that’s how it looks.”

The Wizards have today as a practice day and will continue to work on their team chemistry and offensive flow while sharpening their defense.

They expect that Butler — who missed the last three games of the regular season with a bruised knee and finished with only 14 points yesterday — and Arenas to steadily improve as the series progresses and they play their way into better game shape.

“We have enough faith and belief in our system to say, ‘Look what happened. We held them to 39 [percent shooting]. We did a good job rebounding. They won some skirmishes, but now we have to make some adjustments. Not a lot because if we score on four or five of those six possessions and get good looks, it’s a different ball game,’ ” Jordan said.

SEEN AND HEARD AT QUICKEN LOANS ARENA

CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers allowed their fans to take permanent markers and scribble encouraging messages on the corner panels of the court. But the Cleveland faithful reserved the corner at the end of the Wizards’ bench for something more special: reminding the visitors of the past with messages like:

“You’re outta here! So long Wizards!”

“3 years in a row. Enjoy your offseason”

“NOT IN OUR HOUSE”

“Welcome to the House of Pain! Prepare to lose! Go Cavs!”…

Each of the Wizards had a silver nameplate above his locker. Each had the player’s number, followed by his last name. For example: 3 Butler.

But Wizards equipment manager Rob Suller had a special present for Gilbert Arenas. The inscription on his nameplate: 0 Agent Zero. …

Three minutes into the third quarter, LeBron James threw down an alley-oop dunk that gave his team a 53-50 lead. As he ran down the court, he waved his hand in front of his face, mocking DeShawn Stevenson’s celebratory gesture that usually follows a 3-pointer.

BY THE NUMBERS

19 Rebounds by Antawn Jamison in the losing effort, a career playoff high.

10 Shots missed by the Wizards in the final 4:38, allowing the Cavaliers to go on a 10-0 run.

QUOTABLE

“There’s no pressure on DeShawn. If [LeBron James] scores 30 points, no one knows who [Stevenson] is. If [James] doesn’t score 30 points, no one knows who he is. So it really doesn’t matter.”

— Gilbert Arenas on whether DeShawn Stevenson’s pre-playoff trash talking had an effect on his opening act of scoring three points while giving up 32 to James

PLAYER OF THE GAME

LeBron James

The Cleveland forward finished with a game-high 32 points, six rebounds and four assists. He scored six unanswered points to give the Cavaliers an 88-84 fourth-quarter lead they never relinquished.

Mike Jones

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