Heat 104, Wizards 101
The buzz inside American Airlines Arena on Sunday night was all about Shaquille O'Neal, who was suiting up for the Miami Heat for the first time since severely spraining an ankle on Nov. 3 in the second game of the season.
However, the Washington Wizards were done in by another member of the Heat, one who figures to be causing headaches for the rest of the NBA long after O'Neal decides to hang up his size 22 sneakers and pursue his law enforcement hobby full time. Dwyane Wade's 41 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists pushed the Heat to a 104-101 overtime victory and conjured up bad memories of Miami's 4-0 sweep of the Wizards in last season's Eastern Conference playoffs.
It also sent the Wizards (8-11) to their 10th defeat in 13 games and left them looking up at Miami (11-10) in the Southeast Division.
One night after they squandered a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead at MCI Center in a 118-111 loss to the Chicago Bulls, the Wizards played with energy and rode strong performances by reserves Chucky Atkins (26 points, 8-of-13 shooting) and Caron Butler (28 points, 10 rebounds).
However, it was Wade who came up with the big plays when it counted. None was bigger than his rebound and putback with 50 seconds remaining in overtime, a basket that gave the Heat a 102-98 lead and appeared to deflate the Wizards. Late in regulation, after the Wizards had turned to a zone defense to deal with his knifing drives into the lane, Wade drew a double team and kicked the ball out to Gary Payton, who made a three-pointer to trim Washington's lead to 95-94 with 39 seconds remaining.
"The zone helped us load up on Dwyane a little bit, put bodies in the areas where he likes to attack," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "With Dwyane, you almost need three defenders. He puts so much pressure on your defense. You know one man can't cover a player like that. You need two or three guys."
Despite Wade's performance, the Wizards had plenty of opportunities to get out of Miami with their third overtime win of the season. The Wizards led 48-42 at halftime and overcame a 35-point third quarter by the Heat to take a 93-91 lead on a jump shot by Butler with 1:11 remaining in regulation. After Payton's three-pointer, Gilbert Arenas missed a short jump shot.
"We fought hard. It came down to another night with a call at the end of the game that broke our back," Arenas said. "At the end, we went to a zone and Gary hit that three. He hit it and got the game within reach. From then on they got to the free throw line and got some easy baskets."
After a jump ball resulted in a foul against Brendan Haywood with one second remaining, O'Neal stepped to the line for two free throws with the Heat trailing 95-94. O'Neal missed the first but made the second, and the Wizards quickly inbounded the ball to Antawn Jamison. However, before Jamison could unleash a desperation heave, Payton made contact with him. Referee Greg Williard raised his arm as if he was ready to call a foul on Payton, then pulled back his arm.
The Wizards protested but the game went into overtime, where they made 2 of 8 shots and were outscored 9-6.
O'Neal fouled out with 1:33 remaining in overtime when he was whistled for charging on Haywood. O'Neal finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds in 23 minutes.
"Shaq made a huge free throw," Miami Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "The hardest part of the situation is making the first. He missed it and came up huge, making the second. It was the best one he shot all night."
One night after scoring 42 points and suffering a minor back injury in the loss to Chicago, Arenas went 5 of 24 from the field and 1 of 9 from the three-point line. He did make 13 of 14 free throws on his way to 24 points. Jamison never did find a groove. He missed nine of his first 10 shots and finished with a season-low six points to go with 11 rebounds.
Atkins and Butler each finished with season highs while Haywood and Etan Thomas held their own against Miami's O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning. The Wizards, however, were once again left to ponder how a winnable game slipped out of their grasp.
"I'm proud of my team for the way they came in here and competed tonight," Jordan said. "We played hard and we gave ourselves a chance to win at the end. That's what I wanted to see tonight."