When the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Philadelphia 76ers with a last second free throw on April 14th, the Washington Wizards knew they would be in for an uphill battle in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. That free throw by Cleveland's Devin Brown clinched the fourth seed for the Cleveland Cavaliers, meaning Washington would have to go on the road to start the first round.
After finishing the season with an 18-23 record on the road, the Wizards were unable to come through with a win in Cleveland, struggling down the stretch in Game One and unraveling in the second quarter of a 30-point loss in Game Two. One big reason for the Wizards struggles was the hostile atmosphere, as the Cavalier fans made signs, shouted at players and made Cleveland feel like a million miles from Washington.
Having felt the wrath of the opposing fan base, the Washington Wizards and their fans are ready to return the favor to the Cavaliers.
"I really hope our fans come out loud and support us," said DeShawn Stevenson. "After the way the Cavaliers fans treated me over there. They had thousands of signs, and putting my comments on the scoreboard, so hopefully LeBron and the Cavaliers get the same kind of treatment in our building. We need for them to feel like they are on the road and not at home."
The good news for Stevenson and the Wizards is that the city of Washington is preparing for "White-Out" conditions for Game Three of the series on Thursday night at 8:00pm. With the season hanging in the balance and Washington in a must-win situation on Thursday, Verizon Center will turn into a sea of white, as Wizards' fans fill up the stadium donning everything from white shirts to waving around white rally towels. With the "White-Out" in effect, the Washington Wizards have made it clear to their fans that they will need them to wear white, arrive early, be loud, and most importantly make the Cavaliers feel as unwelcome in Washington as possible.
"I think we can definitely take care of business at home," said Brendan Haywood on games three and four. "Of course we are going need the fans to come out there and support us. We feed off their energy. I remember when they were really great in that Chicago Bulls series a couple of years back. We really fed off their energy and that helped us turn it around."
Similar to this series, the Wizards team from 2004-05 returned home trailing two games to nothing and coming off of a blowout loss to the Bulls. Despite the loss, the Wizards rebounded to win the next four games against Chicago, and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Another key factor also in Washington's favor is the Wizards proven ability to rebound from tough losses throughout the 2007-08 campaign. This season, the Wizards have gone 5-2 following a game in which they lost by more than 20 points.
"I think it's easier to bounce back after a blowout because everything is more real to you," said Haywood. "When you lose in a one or two point game there are so many possessions that could have changed the outcome of the game and sometimes you don't worry about things enough. When you get blown out you have to sit back and take a look at yourself. I think everyone on our team is doing that right now and saying what do I have to do better to help the team."