- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2005

MIAMI — Just like in the regular season, the Washington Wizards haven’t figured out how to stop Dwyane Wade.

And as a result, the Wizards’ luck against the Miami Heat hasn’t changed in the playoffs. Washington fell 108-102 at AmericanAirlines Arena last night as Wade finished with 31 points on 10-for-15 shooting and a Heat playoff-record and career-high 15 assists.

The loss left the Wizards down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinals series, which heads to MCI Center for Game 3 tomorrow.

“We tried to cut the floor off on [Wade],” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “He is so good that he just splits our pick and rolls. He is a tornado out there. He is a major force when he goes to the basket. He did a great job tonight.”

Some of the Wizards said the referees fawned a little too much over Wade, especially in the fourth quarter, when the Wizards scored 31 points and perhaps could have stolen a win. Wade was 11-for 19-from the free throw line on the night, and the Heat hit 22 of 40 foul shots compared to Washington’s 21-for-31.

“I thought we played better than the last game, but in the end we couldn’t overcome all the times they went to the free throw line,” said Wizards center Brendan Haywood, who fouled out in the fourth quarter and finished with nine points and seven rebounds.

Wade was 5-for-8 from the line in the final quarter. The Wizards, who trailed by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter, crept within 105-100 after Gilbert Arenas (28 points) drilled a 3-pointer with 56.5 to play.

But the Heat responded by converting three of four free throws. Antawn Jamison, who played valiantly despite a right knee wracked with tendinitis, sank a 6-footer for the game’s final margin.

Discounting a Dec. 13 game in which he injured his ankle and failed to score, Wade averaged 29.3 points and 10.0 assists against the Wizards in the regular season. He didn’t play that well in Game 1 on Sunday but still led Miami with 20 points. The Heat won all four regular-season games against Washington and have beaten the Wizards 10 consecutive times overall.

Jamison led the Wizards with a game- and career playoff-high 32 points. However, Larry Hughes, the other member of the Big Three, struggled. He missed his first 11 shots and finished the game with 15 points on 5-for-17 shooting.

“I needed to find my rhythm without forcing things, and that is hard,” said Hughes, not the slightest bit disheartened over the loss. “My mind-set is that we go home, win two games and come back.”

That became more difficult last night. Already banged up, the Wizards will have to play the remainder of the series without reserve center Etan Thomas, who aggravated the abdomen strain he suffered during training camp and is finished for the season. The injury caused him to miss 32 regular-season games.

Thomas’ loss puts the Wizards in a bind. They need every foul they can muster from their big men against ailing Heat center Shaquille O’Neal (16 points), and they already were down six potential fouls after they suspended reserve forward Kwame Brown a week ago yesterday.

Brown remains on the playoff roster, so Washington could decide to rescind his suspension and have him available tomorrow. That, however, would put the Wizards in the sticky position of having to reverse themselves on the suspension, which he received after skipping a pair of practices and a pregame shoot-around.

Thomas’ injury reduces the number of legitimate big men on the roster to one, Haywood. Michael Ruffin, scoreless in 22 minutes last night, is basically the backup at both center and power forward.

“We’ll make a decision when we find out the status of our players,” Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld said.

Arenas said the Wizards could use Brown.

“We’d love to have him right now,” Arenas said. “But we have enough talent in this room to win games, and that is what we’re going to do.”

While the Wizards seemingly thwarted fate when they bounced back from an 0-2 deficit to overcome fourth-seeded Chicago, thus becoming just the ninth team in history to win a series after losing the first two games, it’s a different scenario against Miami. The Heat are the top seed in the Eastern Conference; they expected to be here, and they expect to beat the Wizards.

“You really don’t want to give them any life,” said Miami’s Damon Jones, who scored 14 points. “If you give a young team life, you never know how far they can go with it.”

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