Given all the rough stuff that went on in Games 1 and 2, maybe the work crews should just leave the ice uncovered and let LeBron James and Co. play in helmets and heavy padding—with a penalty box on standby for those who are naughty.
“I don’t expect anything to change,” Wizards forward Antawn Jamison said Wednesday. “We’re going to continue to play hard and continue to protect our rim.”
Coach Eddie Jordan and the Wizards, deflecting attention away from the disappointing play that has put the team in an 0-2 hole, sent some subtle and not-so-subtle messages about the way the series is being called. James and the Cavaliers, naturally, countered with a different point of view, with James even coining a name for Washington’s strategy: “Hack-a-Bron.”
“I’m going into Game 3 thinking it’s going to continue,” James said, “so we’ll see what happens.”
The tone of the series is such that James had to switch gears when using a standard sports cliche about the flow of the game—just in case anyone misinterpreted.
“If they hit us with a punch, we have to be able to counter their punch,” said James, who then stopped and chuckled upon realizing what he had just said. “Uh, not literally. Not literally. Let me change my words. If they make a few shots, we have to be able to counter their attack and move on.”
Much of the talk has centered on Brendan Haywood’s ejection for a flagrant foul that sent James crashing to the floor during a layup attempt in the third quarter of Cleveland’s 116-86 Game 2 victory Monday, but the series has been rife with hard contact. Delonte West’s mid-air collision with Antonio Daniels looked just as dangerous as Haywood’s with James, but West had his hands up to make it appear that he was making at least a token attempt for the ball.
That’s the point Jordan tried to make Wednesday—that the Cavaliers have been just as physical as the Wizards.
“It seems like watching the fouls they gave on us—pretend you’re going to block the ball and throw your body at the layup guy,” Jordan said, “so that’s a good technique.”
As for Haywood, he said he would continue to foul James “to keep him from getting a monster dunk.” He has said he apologized to James for the flagrant Game 2 foul, although James said Wednesday that Haywood had not done so. The foul was subject to review for a possible suspension, but the league office opted not to take further action.
“I thought he was going to get suspended,” James said. “He’s not. So we prepare for him to be in the lineup and continue to do what we’ve been doing. … Hard falls do happen, but there’s a difference.”
Meanwhile, Haywood again tweaked Mike Brown for the way Cleveland coach runs on the court “like LeBron got shot or something” whenever the Cavaliers All-Star draws contact.
“C’mon, Mike, it’s LeBron James, not LeBron Brown,” Haywood said. “He’s not your son.”
Brown laughed off Haywood’s words—“He can say what he wants about me”— and James said he was happy to have his coach sticking up for him.
“He’s always defending me,” James said. “That’s why I respect him.”
And so it goes, the tit-for-tat that has overwhelmed the X-and-Os. Without a doubt, none of the banter is escaping the attention of an image-conscious league that will be on high alert for any unpleasantness in Game 3.
“I think the referees will be a little whistle-happy probably,” Haywood said.
Meanwhile, the Wizards need to figure out a way to end an eight-game playoff losing streak to Cleveland that is now in its third year. Jordan’s players pointed out that all the Cavaliers have done so far is hold the fort at home, the same way the Chicago Bulls did in the first two games against the Wizards in 2005—before Washington rallied to win four straight and take the series.
“It’s a different team we are playing,” Jordan said. “LeBron James wasn’t on that Chicago Bulls team. He is extraordinary.”
The Wizards are in trouble because their three prominent players—Jamison, Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas—are struggling. All three are shooting below 40 percent, including a combined 6-for-22 (27 percent) from 3-point range, even though Jamison and Butler began the series with what appeared to be favorable matchups against Ben Wallace and Wally Szczerbiak.
“Offensively, we look horrible,” Jamison said, “not disciplined enough to make them play defense at all. Game 2, I think we tried to do too much on our own.”
The Wizards may have also hurt themselves by deciding to play such an overtly physical game, which some Cavaliers see as out of character for a team that likes to run the floor. The Wizards are averaging more than a dozen points fewer in the series than they did in the regular season.
“It is taking them out of their game,” Cavaliers forward Joe Smith said. “Because it is putting us on the line a lot more, so that is kind of taking away their transition baskets.”
And, as Smith pointed out, the winner is the team with the most points, not the most fouls.
“You have a tendency to want to retaliate,” Smith said. “But I think our retaliation was the win. They can be as physical as they want, but if we keep attacking the basket and keep putting pressure on them, then things are going to work in our favor.”