- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The day after slipping into a 3-1 hole in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals with a 100-97 loss at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Washington Wizards remained upbeat as they began preparing for tomorrow’s do-or-die Game 5 in Cleveland.

Although they are 0-4 at Quicken Loans Arena this season and have lost five straight playoff games there the last three years, the Wizards believe they can steal a road win and return to the District on Friday for Game 6.

“We feel good about ourselves,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said after yesterday’s practice. “It was a tough loss. It hurts from within. But we all knew to win the series, we had to win a game in Cleveland, just as simple as that. We had to win in Cleveland.

“We expect to win the series, and we expect to win [tomorrow],” Jordan continued. “And coming back here, we’re going to play as well as we’ve played all year in Game 6. And then Game 7, I have no prediction. But by then, I think we’ll have the momentum.”

The Wizards this season have lost every way imaginable in Cleveland.

In their first appearance at “The Q” on Jan. 23, they suffered one of the most lopsided defeats in franchise history, falling 121-85 on a night when Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas went 10-for-10 from the floor to lead his team with 24 points while LeBron James added 23.

The Wizards’ next trip to Cleveland seemed like a certain victory. The Cavaliers had just completed a blockbuster trade — shipping out two starters — but the four players they acquired hadn’t passed physicals, and three other Cavaliers were out with injuries. That left Cleveland coach Mike Brown with just eight dressed players, but the Wizards couldn’t capitalize.

Washington — playing without an injured Caron Butler — led with less than 10 seconds left on the clock, but James got to the line and knocked down two foul shots with 7.8 seconds left to lift his team 80-79.

The Wizards’ next trip to Cleveland was earlier this month when they played Game 1 of this best-of-seven series. Washington again held a fourth-quarter lead but went cold at the wrong time, missing its last 10 field goals while Cleveland went on an 11-2 run to overtake the Wizards for the victory.

Two days later the shooting woes continued, and the Wizards lost Game 2 by 30 points.

The Cleveland fans may hate Washington more than any other team in the NBA and do their part to help the Cavaliers take full advantage of homecourt. James predicted the environment will be even more hostile with his team able to wrap up the series with a win tomorrow.

But the Wizards remain unfazed and insist there is no mental block when they step into Quicken Loans Arena.

“Gyms are gyms,” guard Gilbert Arenas said. “If we come out fire hot and they come out cold, the crowd is not involved. But as long as the game is close, the crowd is there. The crowd ignites the home team.

“We just have to play smart. We have to play the way we played at home. We have to be vocal. We have to be a unit up there. When you’re going in an opponent’s arena, coaching doesn’t matter half the time because you can’t hear them. You just have to play smart and trust each other.”

Although Sunday’s loss was demoralizing at the moment, Jordan and his players took comfort knowing despite 13 turnovers and 20 fewer rebounds, they still only lost by one basket — a 3-pointer by unlikely hero Delonte West.

“It comes down to one shot. They make one, and Gil misses one. And not their star player. He made the play,” Jordan said. “So with those things: rebounds and turnovers, it comes down to one shot? You have a whole lot you can hold onto and say ‘Look, if we can cut some of these things down, we can win.’ We’ll mix the defenses up a little bit and see what’s best for us, but we know we have to rebound better. … Going into the series we said, No. 1 is rebounding, No. 2 is offensive execution and No. 3 is don’t give up layups. So that’s all we have to do.”

Note — DeShawn Stevenson was fined $25,000 by the NBA for making “menacing gestures” in Game 4.

Stevenson was called for a flagrant foul when he swiped James’ burgundy headband off late in the first half.


The Wizards have struggled in Cleveland this season, going 0-for-4 at Quicken Loans Arena:

Jan. 23: Cavaliers 121, Wizards 85

In their first trip to Cleveland of the season, Zydrunas Ilgauskas knocks down 10 of 10 shots and finishes with a team-high 24 points, LeBron James adds 23 points, eight assists and eight rebounds and the Wizards suffer one of the worst defeats in franchise history.

Feb. 22: Cavaliers 90, Wizards 89

Facing a Cleveland squad that dresses only eight players because of its deadline trade the day before, the Wizards watch their fourth-quarter lead vanish when James, who finishes with 33 points, knocks down two free throws with 7.8 seconds left to lift his team.

April 19: Cavaliers 93, Wizards 86

The Wizards look to steal Game 1 of the best-of-seven series, but their fourth-quarter lead evaporates. They miss their last 10 shots of the game, and Cleveland clinches the victory with an 11-2 run.

April 21: Cavaliers 116, Wizards 86

The Wizards shoot 37.5 percent from the field, are outrebounded 49-34, give up 30 points to James and fall into an 0-2 hole in their fifth straight playoff loss in Cleveland.

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