- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2008

After watching LeBron James drive into the lane repeatedly, racking up demoralizing dunks or drawing fouls and converting three-point plays, the Washington Wizards appear to have found a way to contain him.

In their 36-point victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 Thursday, the Wizards held James to 22 points — 10.5 below his career playoff average against Washington — and three assists — 4.2 below his season average.

Two adjustments proved the key to success for the Wizards. They were more aggressive with the double team, trapping James nearly every time he touched the ball and forcing him to either take a tough jump shot or pass.

Coach Eddie Jordan also reassigned guard DeShawn Stevenson, who had struggled to guard James in the first two games of the series, and had the taller, more physical Caron Butler mark James from the start.

“Caron really got through screens better, really was physical and his technique was good, he concentrated on playing good defense,” Jordan said. “That was key for us. Caron stayed out of foul trouble and did an effective job defending through screens with pick and roles.”

The Wizards also did a better job of clogging the lane off of screens and pick and rolls, forcing James to stay on the perimeter.

“They did a good job of shrinking the floor,” James said. “They didn’t allow me to get in the paint. I need to anticipate more and attack more, then find guys after I get into the paint.”

The Wizards hope to duplicate that success today in Game 4, but they expect the Cavaliers to make adjustments in preparation for the increased double teams.

Cleveland coach Mike Brown said he and James weren’t surprised by the double teams, but he needs his star to do a better job of finding teammates when he runs into a trap.

“When those guys come over to trap you on the pass, we have to be strong with it,” Brown said. “Rip through and be ready to send the ball to the weakside because a lot of their pressure is coming from an overload situation.”

But Wizards center Brendan Haywood stifled James’ assist efforts by limiting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas — the Cavaliers’ second scoring option— to nine points in Game 3.

Guard Devin Brown was the only other Cleveland player to score in double digits in Game 3, and he scored most of his 10 points during garbage time in the fourth quarter.

The Wizards expect James to come out motivated in Game 4, but if they can maintain the defensive execution that worked so well in their victory, their chance of evening the series greatly increases.

“The key to us getting back in this series and winning this series is going to be our defense on LeBron, and we have to make it as difficult as possible for him,” Butler said. “We were really aggressive with the double team and took the ball out of his hands and forced other guys to make plays.”

Today’s game

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS AT WASHINGTON WIZARDS

When: 1 p.m.

Where: Verizon Center

TV/radio: Chs. 7, 2, 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 — G Gilbert Arenas (knee bone bruise), C Etan Thomas (sternum). Cavaliers — G Sasha Pavlovic (ankle), G Eric Snow (knee).

Outlook: The Wizards look to even the series after rebounding from an 2-0 start with a 108-72 victory Thursday night. … In the regular season, the Wizards were 2-0 against the Cavaliers in the District. The Cavaliers have struggled on the road in the second half of the season, winning just three games away from Quicken Loans Arena since the Feb. 21 trade for in West, Szczerbiak and Wallace.

KEYS TO THE GAME

WASHINGTON WIZARDS

Duplicate Game 3: The Wizards put forth a much more disciplined effort in Game 3, exercising patience on the offensive end. Five players scored in double figures as Washington posted the largest margin of victory in a playoff game in franchise history. Defensively, the Wizards used a zone defense much of the game, which helped them better contain LeBron James and limit his drives to the basket. James finished with 22 points — 10.5 points below his playoff average against Washington.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Provide help for James: Aside from James, the Cavaliers had only one double-digit scorer: Devin Brown, who scored most of his 10 points during garbage time in the fourth quarter. Ilgauskas struggled under pressure from Haywood and Andray Blatche. James said he needs to be more aggressive trying to break the double teams, and coach Mike Brown said he needs his star to do a better job of finding open teammates when he draws traps.

Mike Jones


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