- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Wizards and Cavaliers are obligated to check the pulse of each other in Game 4 today to see whether this is a genuine series.

A loss by the Wizards will set into motion an offseason of self-examination and difficult financial decisions with Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Roger Mason.

Three consecutive playoff defeats to the Cavaliers will beg the question: Is the team, if healthy, truly built to go deep into the playoffs?

The question merits an argument and comes with the element of the unknown.

The team has not been healthy since late January last year. In a four-day period then, the Wizards forged a three-game winning streak that was marked by a pair of victories over the Pistons, a record of 27-17 and an injury to Jamison. And so began the injury-induced unraveling of the Wizards.

Fifteen months later, the injury affliction persists, with Arenas reduced to a glorified cheerleader and Caron Butler not at the peak of his power.

It is impossible to know with certainty what the upside of the Wizards would have been in the last 15 months. Is it a reach to think the Wizards could have defeated the Cavaliers in the playoffs last spring or earned homecourt advantage in the playoffs this spring?

That is a question Ernie Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan will have to entertain in the offseason. It is a question that will be colored in part by what happens the rest of the way in this series. And it is a question that both Arenas and Jamison will address in private while seeking new contracts.

Jamison, who turns 32 in June, is running out of quality seasons to be in the championship hunt with a team. That no doubt will be a factor in his thinking.

A win today by the Wizards would add to the glass being seen as half full and strengthen a conviction within the organization: Just think where we would be if healthy.

The Wizards are hoping the crowd is up to its Game 3 standards today. A raucous basketball crowd in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood is a rarity, which is why its rabidity in Game 3 has garnered so much praise from Jordan and the players the last two days.

“We need to bring our fans with us,” Jordan said yesterday. “We need to show them that we are working hard, getting rebounds and playing physical. When you do that, your fans start coming with you, and they really came with us [in Game 3].”

The Cavaliers have struggled on the road since the Feb. 21 trade that yielded Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and Joe Smith. They have a 3-10 road record since the trade, counting the loss in Game 3.

That Abe Pollin Fun Street crowd should treat that as a source of encouragement.

“We saw the crowd believing in us, and it really made a difference,” Jamison said. “It gave us the extra energy we needed.”

The Wizards’ 36-point rout of the Cavaliers in Game 3 will have the same carryover effect as the Cavaliers’ 30-point spanking of the Wizards in Game 2.

The Wizards recognize the Cavaliers cannot possibly play as poorly as they did in Game 3, when they shot 39.7 percent and committed 23 turnovers.

The Cavaliers undoubtedly will hit the floor looking to be the aggressors.

“We know they are going to be more aggressive,” Jamison said. “We need to match their energy and do what we did in Game 3.”

The Wizards expect to have Arenas back in the starting lineup. His minutes likely will be limited if his surgically repaired left knee continues its practice of stiffening up after he leaves the game.

His gimpy state underlines the shakiness of the Wizards, resilient but haunted.

Either the Wizards draw even in the series today or fall to 3-1 and move closer to a long and potentially problematic summer.

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