Wizards Looking to Escape Miami's Vice

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 15, 2006

The last time the Washington Wizards beat the Miami Heat, Eddie Jordan was an assistant coach with the New Jersey Nets, Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison were teammates on the Golden State Warriors and Caron Butler was a rookie seen as a cornerstone of Miami's future.

Yes, April 11, 2003 was a long time ago.

Since that 91-87 win at Miami, a game in which Michael Jordan scored a game-high 25 points and Butler led the Heat with 19 points, the Wizards have dropped 12 straight regular season games to the Heat. They were also swept by Miami 4-0 in the second round of the 2005 NBA playoffs.

The Wizards have been blown out and lost in overtime (twice), they lost when Miami played without Shaquille O'Neal (a 104-101 Heat win in Miami last Dec. 11) and even lost when Arenas racked up a career-high 47 points (a 128-113 Miami win at Verizon Center last Dec. 30).

The Wizards (10-11) will get their first crack this season at ending the skid tonight when they host the Heat (9-12) in the first of four games between the Southeast Division teams.

After Wednesday's impressive 120-91 win over the Denver Nuggets, the Wizards had to be reminded of the losing streak to Miami. "Right now, we're not worried about the streak," said Arenas.

"Okay, we are worried about the streak," he added after a brief pause. "We're going to go out there and play hard. We've played them without Shaq and they did a number on us, we've played them without D-Wade and they did a number on us, but we're playing great basketball right now, so we're up for the challenge."

Circumstances for ending the streak appear to be ideal considering O'Neal remains out with a knee injury that has forced him to miss 17 games and Dwyane Wade is expected to be out after having his wisdom teeth removed on Tuesday. Wade did not make the flight with the team to Washington and is likely to return tomorrow against the Memphis Grizzlies at the earliest.

The Heat originally set a four-to-six week timetable for O'Neal's return, but Coach Pat Riley told Miami reporters on Wednesday that the timetable is not exact.

"The [estimate] is just sort of normal for you guys [the media] to stay off our backs," Riley said. "Until he's 100 percent healthy and he's running hard and jumping around on the floor, I'm not going to mess with it."

Even without its two stars, Miami showed that it can be dangerous during Wednesday's 99-89 loss to the Phoenix Suns. Reserves Chris Quinn, Robert Hite, Jason Kapono, James Posey and Michael Doleac put together a 22-2 rally that drew the Heat within five points with 2 minutes 38 seconds to play before the Suns put away the game.

The Wizards know better than to take a team lightly simply because a star player is missing. Washington lost to a Memphis team that was playing without Pau Gasol and a New Jersey team that was playing without Richard Jefferson and fell behind by 20 points before rallying to beat a Philadelphia 76ers squad that was without Allen Iverson.

"A lot of times when a team's superstar goes down, that's when other guys step up," said Brendan Haywood, who finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds in Wednesday's win over Denver. "They realize that there are 20 to 25 extra shots out there."

All-Star Consideration

First returns for NBA All-Star Game balloting were announced yesterday and Arenas is the lone Wizard listed among the top 30 players in fan voting in the Eastern Conference. The two-time all-star ranks fourth among Eastern Conference guards with 225,923 votes, putting him behind Iverson (595,200), Wade (586,679) and Vince Carter (433,363).

Despite the fact that Butler is posting career numbers in several categories, including scoring, rebounds, assists and shooting percentage, he does not rank among the top 10 forwards in the East.

Considering that Butler is behind the likes of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Jermaine O'Neal and Paul Pierce in fan voting, the Wizards probably will have to go on an impressive run for Butler to be considered for his first all-star team.

Starters for the Feb. 18 game in Las Vegas will be announced Jan. 25 and reserves will be announced Feb. 1.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company