Thursday , Apr , 20 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Preview – Cleveland vs. Washington

***** NBA Playoff Preview – Cleveland vs. Washington *****
From The Sports Network

By Shawn Clarke, NBA analyst

Cleveland Cavaliers: 4th Seed, East (50-32)

Washington Wizards: 5th Seed, East (42-40)

(Sports Network) – In order to reach the playoffs for the first time in
eight years, Cleveland went out and made Danny Ferry the eighth general
manager in franchise history and Mike Brown the 17th head coach.

Both moves paid off as the team captured its first playoff berth since the
1998 campaign. But you can’t forget the excellent play of MVP candidate LeBron
James, who will make his NBA playoff debut.

James carried this squad on his young back this season and the additions of
Larry Hughes, Damon Jones, Flip Murray and Donyell Marshall added to the
glory. The Cavs are the fourth seed in the East and the last time Cleveland
reached the postseason Bill Clinton was President and James was attending
grade school.

The Cavs haven’t sniffed the playoffs since the late ’90s when they were
ousted in four games by Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers. Cleveland has
not reached the second round of the playoffs since it was swept by
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1993 semifinals.

Awaiting the Cavs in the first round are the Washington Wizards, who are in
the playoffs for the second straight season. The Wizards battled for the fifth
spot in the East thanks to the stellar play of Gilbert Arenas.

Washington reached the semifinals of the conference playoffs last season, but
was swept by the Miami Heat. The Wizards, though, displayed some resiliency in
the first round of 2004-05 by battling back from an 0-2 deficit to eliminate
the Chicago Bulls.

Before last season, the Wizards hadn’t reached the playoffs since losing to
Chicago in the first round of the 1996-97 playoffs.

In the 2005-06 series between Cleveland and Washington, the Wizards took three
of the four contests and have won five of the last six meetings.

Washington and Cleveland have met in the postseason before with the Bullets
eliminating the Bulls from the first round of the 1976-77 playoffs.

FRONTCOURT: Cleveland’s frontcourt is highlighted by Ilgauskas, Gooden and
Anderson Varejao. Ilgauskas, though, is the main man in the middle and the
biggest threat inside for any opponent.

The big man has an excellent jumper as well, while teaming up with Gooden
gives the Cavs a double advantage in the paint. Gooden is a very athletic
forward who plays with high intensity.

Ilgauskas is second on the team in scoring with 15.6 points per game, while
pulling down 7.6 rebounds a contest. Gooden averaged 10.7 points and 8.4
rebounds per contest.

Varejao, Marshall and Martynas Andriuskevicius will provide solid bench
support for Cleveland.

They will bang heads with Washington’s Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Etan
Thomas and Brendan Haywood. Jamison is the best of the bunch and was second on
the team in scoring with 20.5 points per game. Jamison, who also averaged 9.3
rebounds a night, can knock down the 15-footer as well as going inside.

Butler is just as athletic as Jamison, but the numbers are not so impressive.
Butler averaged 17.6 points per contest this season and will provide help with
Thomas and Haywood. Washington has Jared Jeffries coming off of the bench too.

The frontcourt for both clubs is almost even, but the Wizards gain the
advantage with their athletic bunch.


BACKCOURT: Cleveland’s backcourt of Eric Snow, James, Jones, Murray and Hughes
will cause problems for the Wizards. James, though, is the obvious weapon of
choice for the Cavs.

James is riding an MVP-type wave this season and led the team in scoring this
season with a team-high 31.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game.
The muscular James can drive the basket, knock down a three or send a no-look
pass, giving more reason why he is the top player in the game.

No. 23 can also play defense too.

Jones, meanwhile, paced Cleveland with a hot clip from three-point territory
ever since he signed as a free agent in September.

Hughes was the biggest offseason addition and helped take some pressure off of
James, but an injury sidelined the youngster for some time. Hughes, who signed
as a free agent in August, needed surgery to repair an injured finger and
missed some time.

Hughes averaged 15.5 points in 36 games this season. He and James will get a
chance to light up the scoreboard more often during the postseason.

Snow will run the point and set up James and Co. for flashy dunks and easy
baskets. The veteran guard is used to playing with high-priced talent and
providing team chemistry, having spent most of his career with Allen Iverson
and the 76ers.

Running the point for the Wizards will be All-Star Gilbert Arenas. Arenas and
James will most likely trade baskets for most of the series and lead their
respective clubs in scoring.

Arenas carried the Wizards this season with 29.3 points per game, while Butler
will assist in some backcourt duties as well. Jarvis Hayes and Antonio Daniels
are solid contributors for Washington.

With all the talent Washington has controlling the ball, it’s James and the
Cavs who will have the better backcourt when the series tips off this weekend.


COACH: Mike Brown guided the Cavaliers to the playoffs this year and that was
more the front office could ask for. Brown just completed his first head
coaching job after serving as Indiana head coach Rick Carlisle’s top assistant
for two years.

Brown succeeded Brendan Malone, who finished the 2004-05 campaign as the
Cavaliers’ interim coach after Paul Silas was fired on March 21. Cleveland
finished 42-40 last year and failed to qualify for the playoffs for the
seventh consecutive year.

But that was then, and the time is now for Brown and the Cavs to make a run
for an NBA title.

But the coaching prowess of Eddie Jordan will give Brown and Co. some problems
this series. Jordan is in his third season at the helm in Washington and has
done some wonderful things for the team.

Jordan’s Wizards reached the playoffs last year for the first time in eight
years and posted a playoff series win for the first time since the 1982

The longest tenured head coach in the Eastern Conference, Jordan has the
coaching edge over Brown but not the players. All Brown has to do is let James
loose and the Cavs have a better chance than any team in winning the game.

Jordan’s X’s and O’s, however, are far more advanced than his opponent’s.


PREDICTION: It’s an axiom in this series that James and Arenas will duke it
out on the hardwood. But it takes more than one player to win a series, just
ask Allen Iverson and the 76ers. Washington’s athletic squad will take the
Cavs to the limit and advance to the semis.