CLEVELAND -- Overrated hasn't worked. Now one of the Washington Wizards is calling LeBron James another name: Crybaby.
Following Cleveland's 100-97 win in Game 4 on Sunday, James, who has absorbed two flagrant fouls in this rough-and-tumble playoff series and has been banged around by the Wizards, was asked about Washington's tough-guy tactics.
"I guess that's what they want to do," he said, "hurt LeBron James in this series. It's not working."
On Monday, Wizards center Brendan Haywood countered.
"Awww," Haywood said in a whiny, high-pitched voice to mock James. "They are trying to hurt me."
Haywood, who was called for a flagrant-two foul and ejected from Game 2 after shoving James, believes it's time for Cleveland's superstar to stop complaining.
"I mean, come on man, this is the playoffs," Haywood said following Monday's practice. "He wears 23, he wants to be Michael Jordan, I can respect that, he's a great player. You saw what Mike went through. Mike got fouled way worse than this. No one is trying to hurt him, everybody is trying to play basketball, trying to play tough. Play basketball and leave it alone."
If it were only that easy.
With at least one game to go, Washington vs. Cleveland Part III has featured weeks of back-and-forth trash talk, intense games loaded with hard fouls, even dueling rap stars. Haywood's remarks -- and a postgame comment from James -- will provide the backdrop as the teams prepare for Game 5 on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
With a win, the Cavaliers, will close out the Wizards for the third straight year in the postseason, something Washington's players insisted wasn't possible before the series began. To finally eliminate Cleveland, they had to stop -- or at least slow down -- James, but other than knocking him to the floor a few times and winning Game 3 in a stunning blowout, that has hardly happened.
On Sunday, James turned his anger from a flagrant foul committed against him by DeShawn Stevenson on the Wizards with his best all-around game of the series. In 44 minutes, he scored 34 points with 12 rebounds and seven assists, the final one to Delonte West, whose 3-pointer from the left corner with 5.4 seconds left gave the Cavs their two-game cushion.
Washington's plan from the outset was to be rough with King James, who has been knocked on his royal rear-end several times. But James has always gotten up, and through four games, he's averaging 29.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists.
Following Game 4, James was asked if the Wizards can come back. He considered the question, repeated it and then answered it with all the subtlety of one of his ferocious slam dunks.
"Do I think they can do it?" James said. "No."
Stevenson's hard foul in the second quarter on Sunday ratcheted up the animosity between the Wizards forward and James. Stevenson, who called James "overrated" following a game in March, came across the lane and swiped his right arm across the top of James' head, knocking off the All-Star's headband and sending him sprawling to the floor.
James popped up immediately and took a few steps toward Stevenson, who has turned his matchup against James into a personal grudge match. James kept his cool, but noted that if the play had happened on a schoolyard in Akron, things may have gone differently.
The NBA fined Stevenson $25,000 for "making menacing gestures" during the first quarter of Sunday's game.
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown praised James for keeping his composure. Not only have the Wizards been physical with the 23-year-old, but James was booed every time he touched the ball and serenaded with chants of "over-rated" by Washington's raucous crowd.
"It takes a special human being to keep your poise with all that has gone on," said Brown, who gave his players the day off on Monday.
Haywood, who also got tangled up with James in Game 1, couldn't remember a player ever saying he felt another team was trying to hurt him.
"But the game has changed a lot," he said. "Back in the day, you definitely couldn't have said that with the nature of the game with the Pistons, the Bad Boys, the Knicks. You would have been seen as flat out soft."
James wasn't the only one who hurt the Wizards in Game 4. He got help. West scored 21 points (15 on 3-pointers), Daniel Gibson made four 3s and Ben Wallace grabbed 12 rebounds as Cleveland clobbered Washington on the boards 51-31.
The Wizards' adjustments haven't worked, leaving coach Eddie Jordan to come up with something new.
"We've shown our cards already," Jordan said. "We have some other things to do, we'll continue to mix our defenses up and we'll see what's best for us. We have to rebound better. We have to make sure that they don't make the 3s that they made."
Cleveland has won five straight playoff games at home against the Wizards, and the Cavaliers are 13-3 at home in the Eastern Conference playoffs the past three years. If those numbers weren't daunting enough for Washington, there's this: Only eight of 174 teams down 3-1 have come back to win a series.
Still, the Wizards were upbeat and confident following Monday's workout.
They're not done playing or talking, either.
"It's never over until it's over," said Gilbert Arenas, playing with a bone bruise in his knee. "They said there are eight teams that have done it [come back from 3-1]. We are going to be the ninth."