- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2008

With the season hanging in the balance, the Wizards inexplicably lacked energy, focus and determination in Game 4 yesterday.

The Wizards allowed themselves to be pushed around in the three-second lane by the Cavaliers. They allowed senior citizens Ben Wallace and Joe Smith to amass a combined 20 rebounds, nine on the offensive end. They allowed the Cavaliers to collect 18 offensive rebounds that resulted in 20 second-chance points.

And that was difference in the Cavaliers’ 100-97 win over the Wizards.

And that essentially is the series, with the Cavaliers up 3-1 and looking to close the deal on their homecourt in Game 5 Wednesday night.

Antonio Daniels tried to spin the unacceptable, as if he were channeling James Carville, who was in the house.

“We gave a good effort,” Daniels said. “There is nothing to be ashamed of. We have to take care of business in Game 5.”

It is funny Daniels should mention the team’s effort. Rebounding the ball is usually about effort. It is true that sometimes there are bad bounces off the rim or long bounces that are tracked down by the guards. But unlucky bounces do not justify the Cavaliers finishing with a 51-31 rebound advantage on the Wizards.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan certainly did not try to justify the incriminating discrepancy.

“It was a game where we didn’t rebound,” he said. “If you don’t rebound, you put yourself in a bad position.”

The Wizards, for whatever reason, just did not have a fire in their belly for much of the game. They did not attend to the gritty details that do not show up in a box score, such as performing the box-out maneuver on the Cavaliers after a shot attempt.

The Wizards eventually made a game of it after falling behind 67-52 with 7:53 left in the third quarter. But they could not overcome their game-long struggles with securing the ball.

Perhaps no sequence underlined the ineptitude of the Wizards more than Smith’s three-point play off an offensive rebound with three-tenths of a second left in the third quarter. His putback followed two offensive rebounds and staked the Cavaliers to an 80-73 lead.

It was that kind of afternoon for the Wizards, who desperately needed this game to show they have matured since making a habit out of losing to the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

Alas, the game ended in the manner of all too many playoff games involving the Wizards and Cavaliers. There was LeBron James with the ball on the perimeter and the seconds ticking down. And there was Gilbert Arenas drifting to James to lend defensive help.

So James passed the ball to an open Delonte West on the left baseline, and the Greenbelt native hit a 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds left.

It is understandable if you felt a sense of deja vu on that gut-wrenching play. Damon Jones hit a similar shot that sucked the life out of the Wizards two years ago in Game 6.

The sight of James with the ball in the final seconds poses a defensive quandary. Do you let him try to beat you, or do you make someone else do it?

“You’re between a rock and a hard place with LeBron at the end,” Jordan said. “We made a decision, and we will have to live with it.”

The Cavaliers finding a way to defeat the Wizards is old news. It did not matter that the Cavaliers shot 41 percent, committed 18 turnovers and were outscored 36-24 in the three-second lane. It did not matter that James was held to three points in the fourth quarter and was 0-for-3 from the field.

The Cavaliers outworked the Wizards at the rim. The Cavaliers brushed off their 36-point whipping in Game 3 and dared the Wizards to be the aggressors.

And the Wizards blinked in front of the home crowd that, in all likelihood, will be waiting on next season after Game 5 on Wednesday night.

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