- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

CLEVELAND — Washington Wizards shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson knowingly put himself in the bull’s-eye when he said last month that Cleveland star LeBron James was overrated, and he stoked the flames as he continued to challenge James and the Cavaliers leading up to Game 1 of their playoff series.

The Cleveland fans rained insults upon Stevenson every time he stepped onto the floor or touched the ball in Saturday’s playoff opener. The game operations crew even put a picture of Stevenson and his “LeBron James is overrated” quote on the scoreboard whenever the Wizards stepped to the foul line so the fans would make more noise.

Stevenson didn’t put up the most solid effort in Saturday’s 93-86 loss, giving up 32 points to James (20 in the second half, six in the final four minutes of the game) while scoring only three points of his own on 1-for-9 shooting.

But Stevenson said yesterday he remains confident and that tonight in Game 2 he expects individual improvement, although that’s not his concern.

“I’m ready for it. The playoffs are a special thing,” Stevenson said. “Everybody’s watching and the stuff that’s going on with us, it’s important. I’m not really worried about my shot. I know I can do that. My thing is trying to stop LeBron and making it tough for him. But I think we’ll be fine.”

Stevenson did a decent job on James in the first half, forcing him to take tough shots and limiting him to 12 points on 4-for-9 shooting.

Said Wizards forward Caron Butler: “At one point you could look at [James’] face and you could see he was like ‘This is going to be a tough night for me.’ ”

But with 9:11 left in the third quarter, James threw down a thunderous one-handed, alley-oop dunk. He sprinted down the floor and swatted away a shot of Stevenson’s and the momentum continued from there. He made four of his next five attempts in the third quarter and three of four shots in the fourth to lift his team.

“I think the alley-oop and the blocked shot on me on the baseline woke him up,” Stevenson said. “I think I did a good job on him in the first half, and he was tentative to go on the hole. But like any good player, you only need one thing to get you going. And the second half he kept attacking.”

Stevenson said his motivation for continuing the trash talk last week wasn’t to challenge James one-on-one, but to motivate his teammates.

“We needed a guy to step up,” Stevenson said. “They beat us the first time, they beat us the second time. We needed somebody to come out and make this serious. They kinda have a mental thing over us because they’ve been beating us. But I think now if you look at guys, they’re taking this thing seriously.”

Arenas sits for practice

Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas sat out yesterday’s practice, resting a sprained wrist. Arenas injured it in a collision with James late in Saturday’s game.

Arenas, who had 24 points, six rebounds and three assists in 27 minutes on off the bench in Game 1, did some light shooting but didn’t take part in the team sessions.

He is expected to play tonight.

Jordan pleased with effort

Although the Wizards lost the opening game of their series with the Cavaliers, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said after watching film a day after the defeat that his team is on the right track. He praised Arenas’ production in limited minutes and expects to make only minor adjustments heading into Game 2.

“I liked the way we conducted ourselves, I like the way we managed the game for the most part. I liked the way Gil came off and was what we hoped he would be — the difference maker,” Jordan said. “And what it comes down to, LeBron made some terrific plays, driving to the basket.

“Things we had cut off in the first half, we started letting him have in the fourth quarter. So we just need to shore up some things and make some minor adjustments. Because hey, when you’re on their floor, you get them to shoot 39 percent, you’re even in the rebounding department, you managed the game, you were right there, then you don’t have to make major adjustments. You just have to play better.”

Today’s game

WASHINGTON WIZARDS AT CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland

TV/radio: NewsChannel 8, CN8, TNT, AM-980

Probable starters: Wizards — F Caron Butler, F Antawn Jamison, C Brendan Haywood, G DeShawn Stevenson, G Antonio Daniels. Cavaliers — F LeBron James, F Ben Wallace, C Zydrunas Ilgauskas, G Wally Szczerbiak, G Delonte West.

Injuries: Wizards — G Gilbert Arenas (wrist), C Etan Thomas (sternum). Cavaliers — G Sasha Pavlovic (ankle), G Eric Snow (knee).

Outlook: Arenas’ sprained wrist isn’t believed to be serious, but he sat out practice yesterday. He is expected to play. The Wizards have lost seven consecutive playoff games to the Cavaliers and seek to put an end to that streak and leave Cleveland with a split before heading back to the District for Thursday’s Game 3 at Verizon Center.

KEYS TO THE GAME

WASHINGTON

Finish strong: The Wizards led six times in Game 1 and overtook the Cavaliers with four minutes left to play, but they went cold, missing 10 straight shots (before a final Caron Butler layup with three seconds left) and posted a paltry .351 shooting percentage in the fourth quarter. The shot selection wasn’t poor; they just stopped falling. If the Wizards could’ve posted a more accurate performance down the stretch, James’ single-handed 6-0 charge that gave his team the lead for good wouldn’t have had the same demoralizing effect. The Wizards also need to avoid foul trouble and remain physical in the paint. Cleveland had only 12 points in the paint in the first half, but with Haywood battling foul trouble in the second half, the Cavaliers scored 20 points in the paint.

CLEVELAND

Get more from West, Ilgauskas: When Ilgauskas is effective, it eases the pressure on James. His 14-point, seven-rebound first half in Game 1 kept the Cavaliers in the game while James was less effective. West scored nine of his 16 points in the second half — seven of them coming in the fourth quarter. Ilgauskas has a height advantage on Haywood and the ability to lure him away from the basket — taking him out of the rebounding mix — because of his threat of knocking down mid-range jumpers.

Mike Jones


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