WASHINGTON (AP)—Eddie Jordan is calling timeouts a little quicker these days. Even the hint of a possible run by the Cleveland Cavaliers had the Washington Wizards coach stopping play during the first two games of their playoff series.
His players know why. Their leader has endured an unenviable plight for an NBA coach. After nearly a full season of planning a postseason strategy built around All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, Jordan had to start virtually from scratch after both were injured early this month.
“It has to be hard on a coach,” forward Antawn Jamison said, “to have a certain vision about a team, and then get accustomed to that vision and know what your team is capable of, then all of a sudden you’re missing two key components of that vision. All of a sudden it’s a different vision.
“He’s done an excellent job adapting to it and going with what he has. He’s got everybody buying into the system. Unfortunately it hasn’t showed up in wins and losses, but this team is still competitive and playing hard.”
By contrast, Mike Brown’s job looks like a breeze. Sure, the Cavaliers coach has to concern himself with making the right substitutions, calling the appropriate defenses and conjuring up the perfect words for a pregame speech, but at least Brown has the roster he expected to have all along. He wouldn’t want to imagine what it would be like if, say, he were coaching this series without LeBron James and Larry Hughes.
“I experienced this a little bit when I was in Indiana,” said Brown, an assistant with the Pacers for two seasons. “We were part of the brawl in Detroit. We had to figure out how to get into the playoffs with Stephen Jackson missing 30-something games, Jermaine O’Neal missing 30-something games, Ron Artest missing the whole season. … You’ve just got to keep trying to do what he’s doing—keeping those guys motivated, keep trying to throw different wrinkles out there and keep playing for 48 minutes to see if you can get a win. He’s doing a nice job with that.”
The Wizards host the Cavaliers in Game 3 on Saturday, knowing that their 0-2 hole is just what everyone was predicting. What has been somewhat unexpected is the way Jordan’s team kept both games tight in the fourth quarter—much the way the team stayed close in most games during the 2-8 skid at the end the regular season.
Even if they get swept, no one will accuse the Wizards of throwing in the towel.
“He doesn’t put his head down,” assistant coach Tom Young said after Friday’s practice. “And if he does, he’s going to do it at home—or do it on the way home. Eddie’s always had an upbeat personality. Our team is probably as well off mentally as we can be under the circumstances. With their attitude and his attitude, we’ve got a legitimate shot. I don’t think there’s anybody on the team who doesn’t think that, and it all starts with the head guy.”
Jordan has not only had to tailor his Princeton offense to his new lineup, he’s also had to give more minutes to players who spent most of the season as role players.
Jordan is well-suited for this kind of adversity. He’s not a screamer or a moper. He is blunt but positive, and his deadpan sense of humor also helps. He’s been through tough stretches as a head coach before, notably when star guard Mitch Richmond was injured midway through a promising season with the Sacramento Kings in 1998.
“Mitch went down, and we hit rock bottom,” Jordan said. “Look, the league is about a few things. No. 1 is talent. You’ve got to have talent on the floor, you have to have veterans on the floor, you have to have tough guys on the floor. We took a big hit in the talent department.”
Jordan is hoping that homecourt advantage will help turn the tide for the Wizards in Game 3, even though Washington hasn’t won at home since March 28—an 0-6 streak. The coach said he wants his players to play with a “Game 7 mind-set” without feeling Game 7 pressure.
“History speaks for itself,” Jamison said. “No team has come back from 3-0 to win a series, and you don’t want to give them any more confidence than they have now. If we win tomorrow, we make a series out of it. So this is a pivotal game. It’s the most important game.”
Though still unable to play because of a broken bone in his hand, Butler said he might sit on the bench in uniform for Game 3. … The Cavaliers practiced in Cleveland on Friday before flying to Washington. Asked for an update on his sore ankle, James said: “Good. Day off helped.”
Associated Press writer Joe Milicia in Cleveland contributed to this report.