By Michael Lee
Thursday, November 5, 2009
The Miami Heat was the Washington Wizards' opponent on Wednesday night, but in many ways, it could also serve as their inspiration. Only a year ago, the Heat bounced back from being the most putrid team in the Eastern Conference to making the playoffs after an all-star guard with a history of knee troubles spent an entire summer with renowned trainer Tim Grover.
Dwyane Wade was resurrected last season and he led Miami to a 28-game turnaround. After studying that blueprint, Gilbert Arenas is hoping to lead a similar turnaround in Washington -- both of his career and the Wizards. But before a national television audience, Wade outscored Arenas, 40-32, and the Wizards learned that the road to redemption won't be without its bumps, as they stumbled at the start and bumbled in the final seconds of an 93-89 loss before 17,413 at Verizon Center. The loss was further complicated by starting shooting guard Mike Miller spraining his left shoulder and is expected to miss the next seven to 10 days.
One night after blowing an 18-point lead in Cleveland, the Wizards found themselves in a 19-point hole in the first nine minutes of the game. But after working all the way back, and putting themselves in a position to win, the Wizards found a way to fall apart in the closing seconds. DeShawn Stevenson missed two free throws with 44 seconds left and Arenas had three miscues in the final 24.6 seconds as the Wizards lost their second game in a row.
Asked after the game about the final minute, Coach Flip Saunders focused on his team's lackluster beginning. "I remember the first minute," he said. "What happens sometimes, the basketball gods will get you. You can't really cheat the game in a lot of situations."
The Wizards looked as though they would get away with their sloppy start when Caron Butler deflected a pass from Wade with the game tied at 89 and Stevenson grabbed the loose ball. Stevenson raced up the court, got fouled and missed both free throws. Adding insult, Wade came back down the floor and calmly drilled a jumper over Stevenson to give the Heat a 91-89 lead. "It's tough," Stevenson said. "We fought so hard to get back. To miss those free throws, heartbreaking."
Arenas had two opportunities tie the game, but he first lost the ball on a drive to the basket. After Wade made one of two free throws, Arenas eschewed taking a game-tying three-pointer and instead threw a lob to Brendan Haywood that hit the front of the rim. And on the Wizards' final possession, Arenas nearly lost the ball again, throwing a shot that rolled around the rim before rolling off. He walked off the court with a dejected look.
Asked after the game if the loss was frustrating, Arenas simply replied, "Yep."
The Wizards have the talent to put that 19-win season behind them, but they continue to struggle with injury woes. Already without all-star forward Antawn Jamison because of a dislocated right shoulder, Miller got hurt late in the third period when he tried to run through a screen on defense. He immediately reached for his left shoulder. "They clipped me in a weird spot, felt like it came out of place," Miller said after scoring eight points with four rebounds. "It went numb, so that scared me a little bit."
But the injury worsened when Miller returned the game, wearing a bandage on his shoulder. Miller grabbed a one-handed rebound then dribbled up the court, drove left and made a left-handed layup. Miami's Joel Anthony fouled him on the play and Miller landed on his injured shoulder. He screamed loudly after hitting the floor.
"It hurt," Miller said. "I'm grown. I can take a little bit of pain. It hurts for a little bit, but it goes away, it was a boo-boo. I hope I can be a quick healer and we'll see what happens."
He grimaced and made the free throw to bring the Wizards within two points, and later found Andray Blatche for a dunk that tied the game at 73. But as he came back on defense, Miller kept his arm close to his chest and Saunders was forced to take him out.
Wade had his way with the Wizards' defense as he scored a season-high on just 26 shots. Arenas missed 18 of his 27 field goal attempts and finished with a season-low three assists. Haywood had 16 points and 11 rebounds and Butler continued his early-season struggles as he finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
After the game, Arenas wasn't thinking about possibly leading the Wizards on a turnaround similar to last year's Heat. He was focused on something that has plagued this beleaguered franchise the past few years. "We're just trying to keep the boat going until everybody gets healthy," Arenas said. "You know, once everybody gets healthy, then we'll do what we have to do."