- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2008

CLEVELAND — When Gilbert Arenas’ season ended before Game 5 last night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the situation created an opportunity for guards Roger Mason and Antonio Daniels to play more minutes.

As a result, the two had standout games in helping the Washington Wizards stave off elimination with an 88-87 win before a sellout crowd of 20,562 fans at Quicken Loans Arena.

“Here we come, D.C.,” Daniels said into the camera. “We’re coming home, and we need all y’all on Friday.”

Mason and Daniels, who helped fill the void when Arenas missed most of the regular season after surgery on his left knee, did it again for the Wizards in an elimination game.

“We’re used to it,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “We’ve done it all season, pretty much.”

Daniels, who finished the game with 12 points, made two free throws with 43.2 seconds left to pull the Wizards within 87-86.

“That’s something that you do when you’re young and you’re in your backyard,” Daniels said. “You sit there and you talk to yourself and you say, ‘OK, you’re down one with 10 seconds to go. Step up and hit two free throws.’ It’s something we’ve become accustomed to, and I know my teammates have confidence in me to step up and knock free throws down.”

Daniels, who was 5-for-9 from the field, added five rebounds, two assists and one steal and only turned the ball over once in 39:31 of action. He came into the game averaging 6.0 points in the series.

“That’s the role I’ve become comfortable with throughout the course of the season,” Daniels said. “With Gilbert being injured throughout the course of the year, different guys had to step up and not be Gilbert but just be yourself and do what you have to do to try to help us win basketball games.”

Last night Daniels did that by playing gutsy defense on James, who finished with 34 points on 8-for-21 shooting from the field.

Despite being much shorter and much smaller than the 6-foot, 8-inch, 250-pound James, Daniels used his quickness in trying to stay in front of him.

“You just try to stay in front of him and rely on help,” Daniels said. “With a guy that strong, that fast, that talented, honestly, there is nothing you can do one-on-one to stop him. If you want to defend him, it has to be a total team effort.

However, Daniels took it upon himself to defend James on the final possession of the third quarter. He stayed in front of James and forced him to take a fading 3-pointer that he missed to keep Washington’s 69-65 lead intact.

Mason finished the game with eight points on 4-for-8 shooting. That was a vast improvement from the 42.9 percent shooting he had given the Wizards in the playoffs heading into Game 5.

“It’s a good feeling,” said Mason, who had six points in the first half to help Washington take a 45-43 lead. “It’s what we’ve been doing all year. Gilbert has been out. I’ve had an opportunity and been able to step up.”

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