July 1, 2016


Wizards don’t stand a chance


LeBron James has a way of saying a lot by saying almost nothing.

So it was as James sat at the interview podium Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center, about 45 minutes after passing to Delonte West for the game-winning 3-pointer in the Cavaliers’ 100-97 victory over the Washington Wizards in Game 4.

The win put Cleveland up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, meaning it can advance to the second round for the third straight season by winning Game 5 Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena.

 James, who finished with 34 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in Game 4, was his articulate, insightful, charming, quotable self while answering any and all questions about the game.

Then, near the end of the session, the not so small forward was asked if he thought the Wizards could come back to win the series.

Nattily attired as always, the 6-foot-8, 250-pounder repeated the question, then answered in one word: “No.”

There was silence, as those on hand waited for him to say more, but James just sat there with a smile on his face. All at the same time, his look portrayed confidence, satisfaction, smugness, some non-verbal trash-talking and, let us not forget, brutal honesty.

“He’s not getting into any verbal confrontations on the court or in the media or anywhere else,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said Monday. “He’s just going about his business and letting his play speak for itself. That’s key because he’s our leader. If he does it, we’ll all follow.”

James’ play — he’s averaging 29.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists in the series — has once again spoke volumes, and his teammates are once again following his lead.

When James almost had his head taken off — his headband did go flying — on a flagrant foul by DeShawn Stevenson in the second quarter of Game 4, he made his unhappiness known. His best response, however, was scoring 12 points in a 23-5 Cleveland run to end the first half.

The league Monday fined Stevenson $25,000 for making what it called “a menacing gesture” in Game 4, but did not suspend him for Game 5. It really doesn’t matter because James, who continues to Soulja on, will quietly make the Washington guard pay a much steeper price.

 “It takes a special person to be able to keep poised through everything that’s going on,” Brown said. “Let’s face it: LeBron is human.”

That may be true — well, it is true — but James has not always looked human on the court.

He certainly hasn’t looked like a 23-year-old. Nothing has deterred him, be it hard fouls by Andray Blatche, Brendan Haywood or Stevenson. Even the constant chant of “overrated” by the Washington crowd had no affect on James, other than to perhaps spur him on even more.

“That’s by far the biggest individual criticism I’ve faced on one player when I’ve been in the playoffs,” Brown said.

It hasn’t mattered, and it almost certainly won’t. James and his teammates won’t allow it.

History certainly is on the Cavaliers’ side — only eight teams in NBA history have come back to win a series after being down 3-1 — but there’s more to it than that.

For all the Cavaliers’ refusal to get into a war of words with the Wizards, for all Brown’s efforts to compliment the opponent and not supply bulletin-board material, the confidence of Cleveland’s players can’t be, to steal Stevenson’s word, overrated.

Sure, the Cavaliers could have lost Game 1, but they didn’t.

Sure, they lost Game 3 by a franchise playoff-record 36 points.

Sure, Game 4 in Washington came down to the final buzzer.

All that is true, but the fact remains the Cavaliers are up 3-1. Not only that, they truly believe —and they’ve shown it more often than not — they are a better team than the Wizards.

The fact they’ve eliminated Washington from the playoffs the last two years only adds to that well-justified feeling heading into Game 5.

The Cavaliers may not make 13-of-28 3-pointers again, like they did in Game 4.

They may not get the inspired performance they received on Sunday from power forward Ben Wallace — and backup Joe Smith —every time out.

Heck, they may even cringe every time Anderson Varejao’s hair gets too tight and he gets the lame-brained idea to dribble the basketball, but this team knows it is going to win this series.

It will probably happen Wednesday, but even if it doesn’t, the Cavaliers will still have two more opportunities.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who struggled during the two games in Washington, isn’t going to keep missing jumpers.

Wally Szczerbiak, too, will make a few sooner or later.

Toss in a little of this from Devin Brown, a little of that from the home crowd, a few more threes from West and Daniel “Boobie” Gibson and, lest we forget, more terrific play from James and only one conclusion can be reached.

Can the Wizards win this series?


Noland may be reached at rickn@ohio.net or 330-721-4061.


Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.