- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008

While the Washington Wizards’ trio of Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas has struggled with consistency in the first two playoff games against the Cleveland Cavaliers, one player has remained consistent.

Center Brendan Haywood.

He jump-started his team in Game 1 on Saturday, scoring 10 of Washington’s first 12 points while also blocking two shots and pulling down five rebounds in the first two quarters.

In Game 2, Haywood — who on the season averaged a career-high 10.6 points to go with 7.2 rebounds — scored four of his team’s first eight shots and came up with two more blocks in the first and second quarters. He finished the first half with seven points.

“That’s our big man,” said Jamison, whose Wizards play host to the Cavaliers in Game 3 tonight at Verizon Center. “His job is to protect the paint. His job is to play great defense on [Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas] and when he plays well, we play well. I always thought he would have a big impact. … He’s been playing well all year so I wouldn’t expect anything different now that the playoffs have started.”

The only problem is, Haywood hasn’t sustained the production in the second halves of the playoff games.

On Saturday, he picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter and appeared to play more hesitantly from that point, fearing he would earn two more fouls and have to leave the game. In the last two quarters of the 93-86 loss, Haywood accounted for just three points to go with five rebounds and one block.

In Game 2, Haywood was whistled for a flagrant foul on LeBron James and ejected with 6:58 left in the third quarter. That ended his second-half production at three points and one rebound.

In addition to getting all of their weapons going, the Wizards would love for Haywood’s first-half production to continue after the break. Coach Eddie Jordan said foul trouble is somewhat to be expected because the center’s job is protect the paint even if it means committing a hard foul instead of giving up an easy layup.

“Sometimes he’s going to get in some foul trouble,” Jordan said. “You hope that his teammates can give him some support off the bench.”

The key for Haywood is to remain aggressive, although he has been called for eight personal fouls and been ejected once in just more than 1½ games.

“He just has to continue to do the things that he’s doing,” Jamison said. “I know with what happened with the ejection, he might want to come out and be more passive, but we need him to be aggressive. I don’t think he’s doing anything wrong. So I don’t expect anything to change with him or the rest of our bigs protecting the paint. Not playing dirty, just playing basketball.”

Haywood, who insisted he had no ill intentions when he flagrantly fouled James, said the fear of fouls hasn’t affected him, and that he will continue to play with the same style.

“I was going to foul him so he wouldn’t get a monster dunk in the half-court, and I’m going to foul him [in Game 3] to make sure he doesn’t get a monster dunk in the half-court,” Haywood said. “I’m not trying to push him out of bounds and foul him hard. It was one of those things — it was bang-bang, it happened at the last minute, I didn’t see him but I don’t want anybody to think I was trying to hurt one of the game’s best players.”

And though it’s not his chief concern, Haywood said, if needed, he’ll have more opportunities offensively in the second half as long as the Wizards continue to execute their system — which they got away from on Monday.

“I think the key for me in the second half is for us to run the same things,” he said. “The first half, and first quarter, we run a lot of pick and rolls and I get the ball a lot more. In the second half, they kinda go away from that, so it really depends on where I get the ball or how my teammates decide to distribute it. But if they’ve got it going, we really don’t care who scores. We don’t care who gets it done. Doesn’t matter if I’m playing strong or if someone else is playing strong. We need a win.”

Today’s game

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS AT WASHINGTON WIZARDS

When: 8 p.m.

Where: Verizon Center

TV/Radio: TNT, CSN; AM-980

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

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

Notes: The Cavaliers come to the District owning a 2-0 advantage over the Wizards and having won eight consecutive playoff games over Washington since 2006. … The Wizards insist they haven’t panicked, having rebounded from a two-game deficit against Chicago in 2005 to win four straight.

KEYS TO THE GAME

WASHINGTON WIZARDS

STAYING DISCIPLINED: Eddie Jordan blamed himself for not keeping his team disciplined. Antawn Jamison blamed himself and co-captain Caron Butler for not controlling the teammates enough. Either way, the Wizards need to remain patient and continue to run the system. Getting away from the system and trying to take their counterparts one-on-one led to the collapse in Game 2. If the Wizards can create opportunities for one another — and then knock down the shots — they should produce a better effort.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

DUPLICATE GAME 2: Not only did LeBron James get going on Monday — as usual — but his entire supporting cast got involved. Whether it was Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West or Daniel Gibson knocking down big shots on the perimeter or Ilgauskas hitting mid-range jumpers, the Cavaliers got contributions from everyone. James scoring his normal 30-plus points, along with modest contributions from his teammates proved enough to beat the struggling Wizards on Saturday. The whole gang executing effectively more than outdid the cold-shooting Wizards on Monday.

Mike Jones


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