After mounting a rally that brought them back from a 23-point deficit, the Washington Wizards faltered when it counted the most--in the waning moments.
The Wizards scored just two points in a crucial four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter and fell, 104-95, to the Miami Heat last night before 13,941 at MCI Center for their fifth straight loss.
The inopportune cold stretch came after the Wizards had pulled to 86-83 on two free throws by Aaron Williams with 6 minutes 55 seconds left. From there, a layup by forward Juwan Howard was the only basket the Wizards scored while Miami reeled off 13 points to put the game away.
Washington had chances to get back into the game but a tip-in by forward P.J. Brown gave the Heat an 88-83 lead, breaking the Wizards' spirit and igniting a 13-2 run.
"That was the biggest play of the game," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said of Brown's tip-in. "I think we settled for shots too quickly. We got back in the game and tried to go for the quick kill. We started holding the ball and trying to go one-on-one, and that's not the way we can play."
That Washington (1-5) was in the game at all was almost a victory in itself. Miami (5-1) led by 23 points before it took a 35-15 first-quarter lead, making 13 of 24 shots and forcing six turnovers. The Wizards made six of their 20 field goal attempts in the period.
However, reserve forwards Gerard King and Tracy Murray and guard Richard Hamilton brought Washington back. They keyed a 21-4 run to pull to 39-36 in the second quarter.
Washington stayed close the rest of the way and took its first lead at 66-64 after King made a contested layup with 4:23 left in the third quarter. The energy circulating through the arena was at a season high--until Williams swatted Jamal Mashburn's driving layup on the next possession.
Miami quickly defused the situation by scoring six straight points, the final two coming on a mid-range jumper by Alonzo Mourning. Murray made his third three-pointer to bring Washington to 70-69, but the Wizards never got closer.
"I thought the starters got us in a hole early," Heard said. "The bench came in and played great. I've got to get our starters to play as well as our bench."
Washington's reserves outscored its starters 55-40, with Murray scoring a team-high 15 points. King, who registered a career-high nine rebounds, scored 10 points. King played so well that Heard said he plans on playing King more at both power forward and center.
Hamilton, who played 31 minutes, added 13 points. Mitch Richmond started at shooting guard, but scored just five points and was 2-of-7 shooting in 18 minutes. Heard said he wanted to ease Richmond back after Richmond missed Wednesday's game against Seattle with a sore left knee.
Wizards point guard Rod Strickland had a strong game, generating Washington's transition game and recording a game-high 15 assists. He also scored 12 points.
Mourning had a game-high 25 points. All of the Heat's starters scored in double figures, which was a good thing because its reserves scored just 10 points.
"We knew that they would come out playing harder, but we didn't want them to come out and beat us," Miami guard Tim Hardaway said.
After the game opened with Miami making a mockery of Washington, the Wizards outscored the Heat 33-18 in the second quarter to pull to 53-48 at the half.
Washington's marked improvement in effort and desire from the first to the second quarter showed the moxie Heard has been seeking. The reserves keyed the comeback, outscoring the starters 31-17 in the half. Murray led the charge with 12 first-half points. Hamilton added seven.
"The bench got us back in the game," Heard said. "I was hoping the starters could finish it."
With ample opportunity to cave, the Wizards, sparked by the aggressive play of their reserves and Strickland, unleashed their most impressive counterpunch of the season in the second and third periods. However, the inspired effort didn't do them much good in the end.
"We lost the intensity level," Howard (11 points, eight rebounds) said. "We had the crowd behind us, and we lost the intensity level and Miami just capitalized on it. Good teams find a way to win."
Wizards Notes: Center Ike Austin, slowed by a strained left hip flexor during the early part of the season, said he finally is healthy and that he will be able to play the way he is capable, especially in the low post.
"I have been slow coming around," said Austin, who is averaging 8.8 points and 6.8 rebounds this season. "Having not played in preseason is tough. When you miss that stuff, it hurts. That's where you get your timing down. That's why the last game against Seattle, I felt a lot more comfortable. I was in the flow. It's just a process of getting better." . . .
Former Wizards forward Otis Thorpe, who signed with the Heat as a free agent in the offseason, was voted a tri-captain, along with Mourning and Brown. Thorpe took the place of Hardaway. Thorpe did not play against the Wizards because he is on the injured list with a fractured left thumb.