Wizards Must Stop Ilgauskas

At the mall or at the movies, Cavaliers 7-foot-3 center Zydrunas Ilgauskas stands out in a crowd.

On the court, he's still tough to miss, the biggest of the big men in the middle. But for some strange reason, the Washington Wizards couldn't find him in Game 1 - until it was too late.

With a huge size advantage down low, Ilgauskas scored 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter when Cleveland beat Washington 97-82 in the first-round playoff series opener.

Oddsmakers have made Cleveland -12 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 186 total points (View NBA Sports Books). Our public betting information shows that 55% of bets for this game have been placed on Cleveland -12 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

It wasn't LeBron James or Larry Hughes who did the Wizards in. Instead it was the guy nicknamed 'Z' who put them to sleep.

If Washington has any notion of evening this best-of-seven series in Game 2 on Wednesday, the Wizards must do a better job of containing Ilgauskas, who's five inches taller than Etan Thomas, Washington's starting center.

But Ilgauskas said he thinks the Wizards' priorities will remain elsewhere.

``I think they should be worried about LeBron and Larry more,'' he said.

James didn't practice on his sprained left ankle Tuesday but will play in Game 2. He got hurt on a drive to the basket in Sunday's third quarter and has spent the past two days getting rest and treatment.

``I'll be ready,'' he said.

The undermanned Wizards had better be, too.

They've spent the past two days regrouping and practicing in Washington. On Monday, forward Caron Butler had the cast taken off his broken right hand. Although he thinks he can be back in time for Game 3, coach Eddie Jordan isn't planning to have Butler unless the Wizards can advance.

Even without leading scorer Gilbert Arenas and Butler, the Wizards were within striking distance in the fourth quarter when Jordan switched to a smaller lineup hoping for an offensive spark.

Instead, he left the Wizards vulnerable on defense, and the Cavaliers made them pay.

They pounded the ball into Ilgauskas, who scored nine points in a decisive 13-4 burst that put Cleveland up by 15.

At various times, Ilgauskas was guarded by Thomas, Antawn Jamison (6-foot-9), Darius Songaila (6-foot-9) and Michael Ruffin (6-foot-8). Not one could handle him.

``Obviously, he's a lot bigger and taller,'' Songaila said. ``You have to stay between him and the basket. You can't let him back you down under the rim. With his height he can easily reach over and get the tip and some rebounds and stuff like that.''

While Ilgauskas had his way with the Wizards, Jordan kept 7-footer Brendan Haywood on the bench. Haywood played just five minutes - zero in the fourth.

Ilgauskas was surprised Haywood wasn't banging into him inside.

``He (Haywood) has had success guarding me before, and I think for sure I'm going to see him a lot more,'' he said.

But Haywood knows that decision is up to Jordan.

``I can't do anything to change the situation,'' Haywood said Tuesday. ``If there's going to be a lot of changes, it'll be because he feels there should be. If not, he'll play the guys he thinks will help him win the game.''

Haywood has been in Jordan's doghouse for weeks, but with the season on the brink, it might be time to turn him loose.

``We want him to play with a lot of energy, intelligently, and let's see what happens,'' Jordan said. ``You make your own minutes. He's practiced well the last two days. He's upbeat, and let's see if it carries over to the game.''

Jordan, too, would like to get more offensively from Thomas, who was 1-of-4 from the field, made three turnovers and didn't get to the line in 20 minutes.

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, want to hold serve at home against a shorthanded opponent.

James took exception to critics who felt Cleveland should have won the opener more decisively.

``We're not looking to blow this team out,'' he said. ``We're looking to come in and win a ballgame. It don't matter if it's by 1 point or by 15.''

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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