- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Entering the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Washington Wizards prided themselves on solid, veteran leadership and strong team play.

Neither of those qualities surfaced Monday night in Cleveland, where the Wizards lost to the Cavaliers 116-86 and fell behind 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.

The Wizards’ All-Star trio of Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas combined for 28 points on 27.7 percent shooting. Cleveland outrebounded Washington 49-34. The Wizards committed 28 personal fouls, shot 37.5 percent and mustered only 16 assists.

“We lost our discipline in the things we’ve talked about for two days,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “I thought we had a game plan on the offensive end to create some rhythm and good team play and good ball movement.

“We talked about those things for two days and worked on it and started the game out not doing it. … We got anxious. We didn’t finish plays. They had some great defensive blocks on some of our breakout layups.”

Jordan said the spastic play came as a result of his players being “overly excited” and not properly channeling their energy. The Wizards abandoned their motion offense and crisp ball movement, which has been the key to their success.

While Jordan blamed himself for not keeping the Wizards disciplined on the court, team captain Antawn Jamison faulted the players.

“It goes down to the captains. Caron and I need to do a better job of controlling this team,” Jamison said. “We have to attack the rim a little bit better and create more fouls. … We have to go back to the drawing board because the series is not over until someone loses a home game.”

The Wizards must rediscover their poise to halve their series deficit in Game 3 tomorrow in the District.

Arenas said there’s an easy cure for the Wizards’ frantic, impatient play.

“Poise comes with making shots,” said Arenas, who scored seven points in Game 2 on 2-for-10 shooting. “When you make shots, everyone’s poised. You miss shots, and players start trying to do things on their own.

“There were plenty of times where I just wanted to say, ‘[Forget] the offense,’ and go out and do what I do best. But that’s not basketball right now. They’ve been winning passing the ball around right now, and that’s what we have to do.”

In NBA history, teams that lead 2-0 in seven-game series have a 191-13 record.

Arenas pointed out, however, that the Wizards rebounded from an 2-0 deficit against the Bulls in 2005 and won four consecutive games. And with the elimination of the mental errors that plagued them, Washington’s players believe they can post a similar comeback.

“A lot of guys like myself, Antawn and Gilbert were on that team a few years ago that came back from down 0-2 in the Chicago series,” said Brendan Haywood, whom the league will not suspend for his flagrant foul and ejection in Game 2. “We definitely feel confident in our skills and know we can get things done. … We don’t feel demoralized. We feel like we have a lot to give, and we have played the worst basketball of the season so far.”

Jordan praised how the reserves played in the Game 2 loss. In Game 1, backups Darius Songaila, Roger Mason Jr. and Andray Blatche combined for three points. The trio combined for 31 points Monday night. Jordan said they were the only players who stuck with the system and executed properly.

“I think that’s because we know that’s how we get open,” Mason said. “We’re not the one’s who are going to go one-on-one. Darius, myself and Andray are role players right now, and our role is to compliment the other guys, run the system and running the system to get a shot.”

Note — Haywood yesterday talked about his ejection for the flagrant foul on Cavaliers star LeBron James.

“There was no harm meant. He said it himself. … He is 6-9, 260. If you go out there and try to foul him lightly he is still going to score. There was no malicious intent. I apologized to LeBron after the game and told him that I never meant to hurt him. It’s just one of those things.”

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