- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

Perhaps it has the hint of being a series now.

Perhaps the Wizards see what needs to be done after overwhelming the Cavaliers 108-72 in Game 3 last night.

Perhaps the Wizards have purged the doubt that comes from losing eight consecutive playoff games to the same opponent.

Whatever the case, the Wizards feel considerably better about themselves today after being embarrassed in Game 2 in Cleveland and appearing not to have an answer for LeBron James.

It may be only one game, it may close the deficit to only 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, but the Wizards were able to restore a measure of their pride and dignity.

Eddie Jordan said he and his assistants made their displeasure known to the players after Game 2.

“We read them the riot act after that game,” Jordan said. “We then spent the next two days telling them how great they were.”

And the players tried to deflect the rising tension.

Andray Blatche and DeShawn Stevenson decided to get Mohawk haircuts before Game 3, and Caron Butler carved “Tough Juice” into the back of his head.

Jordan said he and the players noticed the white T-shirts being draped over each seat after their shootaround yesterday.

“That meant a lot to us,” Jordan said. “That meant unity. I said before the game, let’s bring the crowd with us. And the crowd ended up being big for us.”

With Gilbert Arenas writing in his blog that he and his teammates wanted another shot at the Cavaliers in the playoffs and Stevenson calling James “overrated” last month, the Wizards opened themselves up to ridicule.

The Wizards finally put some muscle behind their word. With a raucous crowd lending support, the Wizards showed a level of efficiency on offense and defense that was conspicuously absent in the first two games of the series.

Their efficiency on offense was especially needed after they were held to 86 points in each of the first two games.

For all the hosannas that have been tossed in the direction of James, it was easy to forget that the Wizards are not equipped to be successful if scoring fewer than 90 points, as their 3-17 record in the regular season attests.

The victory possibly came at considerable cost, with Arenas limping noticeably as he left the court late in the second quarter. Arenas, who sustained a bone bruise to his surgically repaired left knee, did not return in the second half.

His help was not necessary.

Butler finally imposed his will on the series and had the highlight of the game.

He split both Wally Szczerbiak and Zydrunas Ilgauskas with a reverse-spin dribble on the perimeter late in the second quarter and then double-clutched on Joe Smith to convert a lay-up at the rim.

The Wizards appeared to be overdosing on adrenalin for the longest time, unable to complete the most perfunctory plays.

Both Stevenson and Darius Songaila missed easy lay-up attempts, and the Wizards sometimes tried to be too fine with their passing, which resulted in turnovers.

As shaky as the Wizards were at the outset, the Cavaliers were even shakier, unable to deal with the energy of the home team and the boisterous throng in white T-shirts.

“A crowd as good as theirs, you can feed off the energy, and they did,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said.

Stevenson hit back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the third quarter to give the Wizards a 66-40 lead and send the crowd into a frenzy. Late in the third quarter, with James at the foul line, the crowd chanted, “Overrated.” James laughed in response.

With Stevenson on another mini-scoring tear in the fourth quarter, Soulja Boy broke out in dance at courtside and motioned at one point that “he could not feel his face.”

It was that kind of high-spirited night, all shouts of joy and big grins in the end.


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