- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2006

Gilbert Arenas tries for a minute to act as if the streak really isn’t in his head.

And for a moment, it’s believable.

Arenas is smiling. The Wizards have won six of their last eight games, with Arenas playing so well he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday. A win tonight would allow the Wizards (10-11) to begin their first Western Conference road trip at .500.

The problem? The Wizards face the Miami Heat, a team that no matter how shorthanded it is at the moment owns a 16-game winning streak over Washington dating to 2003.

“No, we’re not worrying about the streak,” Arenas said, right before he goes honest. “OK, we are worrying about the streak. We’re just going to go out and play hard, like we always do, and then hope for the best.”

The Heat (9-12) are at best a shadow of the team that last season earned its first NBA championship. They are without superstars Dwyane Wade (dental surgery) and Shaquille O’Neal (torn knee cartilage), and they are coming off a 99-89 loss to Phoenix on Wednesday that put them behind the Wizards in the standings.

And after an 18-point road loss to Chicago back on Dec. 2, the Wizards have gone 4-1 since, averaging 113 points in those wins. The lone loss came against Houston, a game in which the Wizards lost starting center Etan Thomas and backup Brendan Haywood.

None of that, of course, negates the 0-16 skid, which ranks third in the NBA among active losing streaks. The Dallas’ Mavericks’ 18-game winning streak over New Orleans/Oklahoma City is the longest.

The Wizards hope an optimistic approach helps them end the drought, however.

“That’s the plan. That’s always the plan,” Washington’s Antawn Jamison said. “The most important thing for us is that we look at it like it’s an important game, because it is. We need to get to .500 before that west cost swing. But they feel confident every time they play us. They are accustomed to winning. It’s going to be tough for us.”

The night the Wizards last defeated the Heat (April 11, 2003), current Wizard Caron Butler was a rookie on Miami’s roster and had 19 points with a career-high eight assists. The same night, the Heat — in front of a sellout crowd of 20,152, then the largest crowd to ever attend an event at American Airlines Arena — retired then-Wizards guard Michael Jordan’s No. 23 jersey.

Jordan is long gone, and Wade and O’Neal are on the shelf. Miami is not half the team it likely will be in the next three encounters with the Wizards this season.

Nonetheless, Butler and his teammates say they will approach the game as if Miami is at full force.

“Guys will step up,” Butler said. “I’ve said this before. When key guys go out people look for that opportunity to show what they are capable of doing. Coach [Pat] Riley and the organization are very capable of playing at a high level. On the same note, we have to approach them like they have Shaq and Dwyane. The game plan will be a little bit different, but overall we’ve got to approach this like these are the Miami Heat and they are the world champions.”