|Cavaliers wary of weakened Wizards|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 20 April 2007 12:54|
Though damaged, the Wizards are still dangerous.
Sure they are. Well, at least that's what the Cavaliers want everyone to believe.
Thanks to a series of fortuitous breaks on the final day of the regular season, Cleveland jumped up to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, dodged a possible opening-round matchup with Miami or Orlando and drew seventh-seeded Washington, which hobbles into the series missing injured All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.
Obviously, Cleveland is the favorite - a heavy, heavy, heavy one.
But despite having the odds overwhelmingly stacked on their side, the Cavaliers are wary of being too overconfident.
``They are in the playoffs too,'' LeBron James said of the Wizards, ``and no matter what seed you are from one to eight, you are capable of winning or losing the series. We're not going to look at it as us trying to sweep anybody.''
Game 1 is scheduled for Sunday at 12:30 p.m., not exactly the prime-time TV spot the James Gang is accustomed to. But of the eight playoff series tipping off this weekend, the Cavaliers-Wizards matchup is the least appealing - by far.
James won't admit it, but he knows it.
``I love going against the best,'' he said. ``This has definitely taken a little bit of the spunk out of the series with those guys being out, that's just realistic. But we have to play, and those guys have to play also.''
Last year, the Cavs and Wizards hooked up in a dramatic first-round tussle that featured three games decided by one point, two overtime thrillers, James' triple-double in his playoff debut, Arenas scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter to win Game 3 and Cleveland's Damon Jones coming off the bench to hit a series-clinching jumper in the final seconds of Game 6.
There was also gamesmanship as Washington coach Eddie Jordan complained about James getting a preferential call as well as Arenas missing two free throws late in Game 6 after James whispered a warning to him not to.
This time around, the only suspense may be whether the Wizards can steal one game.
It seems as if no one outside the Beltway or 202 area code thinks they can.
M, never mind the Cavaliers.
Jordan later joked that he meant to use a smaller school but couldn't come up with one in the heat of delivering his speech. It didn't detract from his point, though, which is that the thinking is an affront to the Wizards as professionals.
``It seems like we're being counted out. We don't have the firepower. But that's OK,'' he said. ``If we don't have the scoring or the talent, at least give us the respect of the fact that we are competitive, that we are professionals. We have good character guys, guys who are working hard.
``They're trying to do what we ask them to do. They work hard, they come to work on time, and they are professional players, so there has to be some due respect, just in that regard. It just seems like that's not being accounted for, but that's the way it goes.''
The Cavaliers are not disrespecting or discounting the weakened Wizards, who finished the regular season in a 2-8 slide. Antawn Jamison is a capable scorer, and Jordan's motion offense can be a challenge to defend.
On top of that, too often this season Cleveland played down to its competition, failing to beat lesser teams or teams missing injured players. Faced with this situation before, the Cavs have faltered, which is why Larry Hughes thinks they'll be prepared for the Wizards.
``Anything can happen,'' he said. ``We have to win four games, that's the bottom line,'' Hughes said. ``We can't overlook anybody. We've struggled against teams under us, so we understand what it's going to take.''
Hughes played three seasons for Washington and remains close friends with several of the Wizards. Following Cleveland's practice, Hughes was asked if he was upset that the Cavs weren't going to get Washington's best shot without Arenas and Butler.
``No, not at all,'' he said, smiling. ``At this point, any advantage you can get, you want to take it. It's unfortunate for those guys but we have to take advantage of it.''
AP Sports Writer Joseph White in Washington contributed to this report.