Wizards 91, Heat 87
All that's left now for the Washington Wizards are the remaining three games of Michael Jordan's illustrious career.
Despite defeating the Miami Heat, 91-87, tonight before an American Airlines Arena record-crowd of 20,152, Washington was eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoff hunt by virtue of victories by the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic.
"For us to be better than we were last year, I'd like to see us win more games this year than what we did last year and continue to build that base," said Jordan, who led the Wizards with 25 points. "The playoffs would have been a great, great base to build from."
The Magic beat Indiana, 98-86, and the Bucks beat Toronto, 105-103, making it impossible for the Wizards' to catch either team in the standings. Washington needed to win each of its remaining games and have either the Magic or the Bucks lose all of theirs.
"We left it up to other people so that's all you can expect," said guard Larry Hughes, who scored 13 points in his first action in more than a week because of a sprained right ankle. "You think about the worst when you leave it up to other teams to lose games."
The Wizards (37-42) matched last season's victory total with the victory while the Heat fell to 24-56.
Not knowing the outcome of Orlando's game with the Indiana Pacers, the Wizards competed with fury and focus, something they've failed to do many times this season; it's also a reason why they're bound for the NBA Draft lottery again.
Washington let the struggling Heat trim a 14-point, third quarter deficit to eight midway though the fourth quarter. But two free throws by Jordan with 3 minutes 53 seconds remaining -- his only points of the second half -- gave Washington an insurmountable lead.
The Heat pulled within 87-84 with 26 seconds left but it was too little, too late.
Two free throws by Washington guard Tyronn Lue with 14 seconds remaining and two more by Lue with six seconds left were enough to survive a three-pointer by LaPhonso Ellis that cut the Wizards' lead to two.
That Washington let the game get so close at the end was somewhat harrowing since Heat Coach Pat Riley had reserves from deep on his bench playing at the end of the game. That strategy may have been Riley's final tribute to Jordan, after putting together a pregame ceremony to honor Jordan that Wizards and Heat players and coaches said was like none other.
Riley and the Heat retired Jordan's No. 23, hanging a framed jersey in the arena rafters and pledging that no Heat player would wear that number again.
"I thought about it about a month ago and I discussed it with [owner] Micky [Arison]. We thought it would be gesture of good will for what he's done. . . . I don't think it would be a bad move for every team to hang his number up and show what greatness is about."
Said Jordan: "To have that in someone else's building says a lot about him. He's a class act and I take it as that. I take that as something very special. That surprised me.
"I thought Pat was playing that psychological game, to get my mind thinking about all the accolades and whatever and the next thing you know I'm not thinking about the game. So I came out early like I'm not going to fall for that reverse psychology."
Jordan scored 23 points in the first half as Washington went up by seven at halftime. Four other players scored in double figures for the game, including Kwame Brown (12 points, eight rebounds), who started for Jahidi White at center.
Hughes scored 13 points off the bench. Bobby Simmons (six points) started at small forward because Jerry Stackhouse (sore right knee) did not dress.
Rookie Caron Butler, a former star at Connecticut, scored 19 points to lead the Heat.