Heat 93, Wizards 83
All season long, Washington Wizards Coach Doug Collins has said the team's margin for error is minimal. So their sluggish, disjointed play in the first half tonight put them in a bind against a Miami Heat team with nothing to lose, and once Washington battled back into the game, it didn't have enough to finish.
The Wizards simply were unable to sustain their consistently high level of play for a sixth straight game tonight and were humbled, 93-83, by one of the NBA's weaker teams before an American Airlines Arena crowd of 16,500.
Miami, up by just one in the fourth quarter after Washington finally got going in the third, blew the game open by the midway point of the period and ended up outscoring the spent Wizards 29-20 to take leads as great as 14 points.
"I think what happened is when it counted Miami just out-toughed us," Collins said. "I thought we played eight minutes of team basketball today and that was in the third quarter. We played defense and we moved the ball."
This game will be one of several that could cost the Wizards a playoff berth and leave them shaking their heads in disgust. The Wizards fell to 29-30 and are tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Miami improved to 20-39.
Jerry Stackhouse led the Wizards with a game-high 24 points. Michael Jordan added 21 points (9-of-27 shooting). No other starter had more than five points. Miami rookie Caron Butler (20 points) led six Heat players in double figures.
Washington's Juan Dixon, starting his second game at point guard, failed to deliver the same magic he displayed in a career-high 27-point game in Washington's victory over the Chicago Bulls Saturday. He made just 1 of 7 shots, had just two assists and five of Washington's 11 turnovers.
"They played the same as [Saturday] night, the same way Chicago did, trying to put the same pressure on me," Dixon said. "I tried to get the team into the offense early and get guys the ball; we just didn't execute."
Throughout the game, the converted shooting guard had problems getting the Wizards into their offense, prompting Collins to play recently signed Anthony Goldwire for 20 minutes. Goldwire didn't waste his time on the court, scoring 10 points, grabbing three rebounds and delivering an assist.
More importantly, despite not knowing most of the Wizards' plays, he managed to reign in Washington on offense, get the offense rolling early in the shot clock and make plays when they needed them.
"I think losing Tyronn Lue is a big loss for us in terms of getting us into a set and getting defensive pressure on the guards," Jordan said of Washington's injured starting point guard, who will miss three more games with a separated left shoulder.
Collins inserted Goldwire for Dixon with just less than eight minutes left in the third quarter and Washington down 53-45. Miami's lead grew to 12 but then the Wizards finally got going. Beginning with Christian Laettner's two free throws with 5 minutes 48 seconds left in the period, Washington went on an 18-2 run to go up 63-59. Goldwire converted back-to-back three-point plays in the stretch that allowed the Wizards to tie the score at 57. Charles Oakley capped the run with two free throws.
"I'm limited, I don't know any plays. I just know the basic sets," said Goldwire, who signed a 10-day contract Saturday. "I know who to get the ball to, Mike and Jerry. If anybody else is open get it to them. I'm just trying to play solid, play tough defensively and try to make something happen."
After Washington's huge run came the sequence that Collins said changed the tone of the game. Mike James hit a 17-foot jump shot to bring the Heat to 63-61, then Butler stole the ball from Goldwire after the inbounds pass and made a layup and free throw after being fouled by Bryon Russell to give Miami a one-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
Before the midway point of the final quarter the Heat was up 80-70 and Washington had nothing left but occasional baskets by Stackhouse and Russell (11 points).
"We got into a good rhythm in the third quarter but once we got into the fourth quarter we let them continue to score, I think nine times in a row," Jordan said. "They were off and running and we never made a stop defensively. Third quarter we did a great job defensively."
Added Collins: "You can't win like that. You cannot win like that."