Heat 118, Wizards 106
The Washington Wizards came into their home opener against the Miami Heat last night concerned about finding a way to contain Shaquille O'Neal, who is spending his first season with the Heat after winning three NBA championships in eight seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Wizards -- and O'Neal's sore hamstring -- managed to keep the feared big man in check with the exception of a few highlight dunks. However, they should have been more concerned with his supporting cast, namely Dwyane Wade and Eddie Jones.
Wade, the Heat's second-year point guard, scored 32 of his 37 points in the first three quarters. Jones, Miami's veteran shooting guard, took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 points in the period to lead the Heat to a 118-106 win.
"They had everything going," Coach Eddie Jordan said after his team lost for the first time in three games. "Wade's drives. Shaq's post-ups and their three-point shooting. They had everything working and yet we were still right there to have a chance to win the game."
Gilbert Arenas had 27 points, Larry Hughes had 26 and Antawn Jamison had 24 in his Washington home debut. They did their best to help the Wizards stay competitive, but it only lasted for 46 minutes.
Jarvis Hayes stepped in front of a poor Jones pass to get a steal, flipped it to Larry Hughes, who dished it back to Hayes, who hit a layup to tie the game at 102 with 2 minutes 26 seconds left. The 19,859 fans at MCI Center erupted, feeling that the Wizards could beat the Heat and become the second basketball team in Washington to win its first three games. (The Bullets won their first four games in 1978.)
Then Jones, a 10-year veteran, broke the tie with a drive along the baseline. With the Wizards keying on O'Neal, Jones found comfort with the open looks he received. He made 6 of 6 shots, including four three-point attempts. "If [Jones] is spotting up for threes, it is like shooting ducks in a barrel," Jordan said.
The Wizards grew more concerned about O'Neal after 6-foot-8 center Michael Ruffin and his backup, Samaki Walker, fouled out in the fourth quarter. Jordan was forced to send Jared Jeffries to defend the 327-pound behemoth, with regular center Brendan Haywood serving the final game of a three-game suspension for fighting.
Fearing that O'Neal would break in two the 6-foot-11 Jeffries -- "I'm so undersized, I give up 100 pounds to him" -- the Wizards scrambled to surround him with everybody they could. In the process, the Wizards forgot that O'Neal has teammates -- and that Jones can still shoot.
"We wanted to make it difficult for Shaq, but we didn't want Eddie and Dwyane have [those] type of nights," said Jamison, who added 13 rebounds before fouling out. "What we didn't want to happen, happened."
Wade was 11 of 16 from the field, and made his only three-point attempt. Arenas waited until the end of the third quarter to try and to match his counterpart at point guard, scoring 12 consecutive points for the Wizards over three minutes to cut a 10-point deficit to two.
"I apologize to my team because I was passive in the first half," said Arenas, who changed his approach and his shoes -- switching from a blue pair to a white pair -- during the game. "I didn't want to make it a battle. But I'm like [Wade], I just go. I attack."
After Arenas's scoring flurry, the Wizards were finally -- and rudely -- introduced to O'Neal. He jumped over Ruffin to catch a lob from Wade (12 assists) and rammed the ball into the basket with one hand. O'Neal scored nine of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, fouling out Ruffin and Walker, which left a thin power forward serving as his only obstacle.
"You've got to take something away" Jeffries said. "You'd rather take away [Jones] making three-pointers than [O'Neal] making dunks."