In Miami, Time Runs Short for Wizards Again

gilbert arenas - washington wizards
Gilbert Arenas scores 33 points for the Wizards, including three free throws with 3.1 seconds left that tied the game and led to this mock gesture to the Miami crowd. (Wilfredo Lee - AP)
By Heat 106, Wizards 104 Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 12, 2007

MIAMI, March 11 -- The Washington Wizards came to Florida a tired and dispirited bunch after the New York Knicks stole a win from them thanks to Steve Francis's last-second game-winning three-pointer at Verizon Center on Saturday night.

"The only thing we've enjoyed since we got down here is the weather," said Caron Butler before Sunday's game with the Miami Heat. "The only way to feel better is to get a win."

The Wizards did what they could, but they walked off the court at American Airlines Arena with a familiar shocked feeling. After Gilbert Arenas tied the score with three free throws with 3.1 seconds to play, Miami's Udonis Haslem posted up on Antawn Jamison, wheeled into the lane and released a fadeaway jump shot that dropped through the net with 0.3 of a second remaining, giving the Heat a 106-104 win.

It was the third straight loss for the Wizards (34-28) and eighth consecutive loss at Miami. The Heat (33-29) won for the sixth straight time and is one game behind the Wizards in the Southeast Division.

"We've played some great basketball up in this building, but we just can't seem to get over that hump," said Arenas, who finished with 33 points and made 16 of 17 free throws. "I don't know what it is, but they just seem to do whatever they have to do to beat us here."

Jamison sparked a spectacular 38-point third quarter for the Wizards by scoring 14 of his 26 points. Miami had eight players score in double figures, including Haslem, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Like Saturday's wild finish against the Knicks, Sunday's ending featured twists and turns and two controversial calls. Miami led 103-102 with under 15 seconds left when the Heat's Antoine Walker missed badly on a three-point attempt. The rebound went long and Walker rebounded his miss and passed to Gary Payton, who was quickly fouled.

Payton, a 62.7 percent free throw shooter, missed two attempts and, following a scramble, Jamison got the rebound. As Washington set up for a potential game-tying or game-winning shot with 6.4 seconds left, Walker approached his teammates and yelled, "Do not let Gilbert beat us!"

Arenas, who made three-pointers to beat Milwaukee and Utah this season, never got a chance. Right after he took the inbounds pass, Payton slammed into a Jamison screen, flopped to the floor and drew a whistle from referee Tommy Nuñez Jr.

Illegal screen on Jamison.

After Jason Williams made 1 of 2 free throws to give the Heat a 104-101 lead with 3.7 seconds left, the Wizards again inbounded to Arenas, who drew contact from Payton on a three-point attempt and got another call from Nuñez.

Arenas, who clinched a one-point win over Golden State with three free throws in a similar situation last Sunday at Verizon Center, made all three attempts and then responded to some spectators' chants of "choker" by wrapping both hands around his neck while staring at the hecklers.

"I told you guys, I'm not missing those anymore," said Arenas, who has made 84.9 percent of his free throws this season. "This ain't the Cleveland series anymore."

Yet Sunday's loss was eerily similar to the close defeats suffered by the Wizards in their first-round playoff series loss to the Cavaliers last season.

The last time the Wizards won in Miami, on April 11, 2003, Michael Jordan was near the end of his two-year comeback, Shaquille O'Neal was still winning championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and Arenas was in his second season with the Golden State Warriors.

Still, the Wizards tried to take away something positive from their latest Miami setback. They erased a 16-point first half deficit Sunday, outscoring the Heat 38-16 during the third quarter, and again had a chance to pull out a win in the end.

"We're resilient," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "You would have thought that we could not come down here and have a chance to win after a heartbreak like last night -- that is what a lot of people thought and we proved them wrong. We will be fine. We've got a good veteran team and you saw that tonight."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company