- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2008

MIAMI — With one of the NBA’s elite teams in the Detroit Pistons coming to the District tomorrow, it would’ve been easy for the Washington Wizards to overlook the Miami Heat — owners of the NBA’s worst record — which could have resulted in an embarrassing defeat.

But Wizards coach Eddie Jordan didn’t worry about his team making that mistake, crediting the strong leadership of his veterans, whom he expected to get their teammates focused pregame while also turning in strong efforts on the court themselves.

And that was the case as the Wizards rolled to a 103-86 victory over the Heat last night at AmericanAirlines Arena behind forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.

Butler led the team with 25 points on 9-for-12 shooting, his highest point total since returning from a 16-game layoff with a hip injury. Jamison finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds for his 39th double-double of the season. Guard Roger Mason Jr. added 11 points off the bench, and starting point guard Antonio Daniels had nine points and seven assists.

“To win on Wednesday [at Orlando] and come out here and not be prepared, it would’ve been a disgrace,” Jamison said. “We had fun when we got here Wednesday night, but Thursday we got back to the task at hand because it was definitely one of those games if you didn’t come out prepared or mentally ready to play, you never know what could happen.”

The Wizards, who improved to 35-33, took full advantage of the Heat’s misfortunes. Franchise player Dwyane Wade is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, and Shawn Marion missed his second straight game with a sore back. Bobby Jones led the Heat with 15 points.

Washington wasted little time pouncing on Miami (12-56). Haywood won the opening tip and tapped it toward Jamison, who darted down the court for a layup.

The Wizards went on to take a 26-20 lead heading into the second quarter and pulled ahead 52-39 by halftime.

“Obviously, when you’re playing in games like this, you want to put teams away,” Butler said. “When you give teams a little life, I’m pretty sure you saw what happened to UConn today. … You’ve got to put teams away early, teams that you’re supposed to beat. And I think we did a good job of that.”

The Wizards zipped the ball around the horn and took advantage of holes in the Heat defense for easy buckets in the third quarter. A 21-13 burst extended their lead to 73-52 in the third, and the advantage swelled to as high as 26 points in the fourth quarter.

“I don’t think we moved the ball as well as we wanted to in the first half,” Daniels said. “I think the second half we did a much better job. The ball moved from hand to hand, and we just did a good job, really that third quarter of playing off each other.

“Coach didn’t call that many plays at that time. He just told us to read each other, and when you have veterans out there who understand and have been playing together a minute. We understand how to read off each other.”

The victory marked the Wizards’ fifth in their last six games. It also helped them overtake Toronto for fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Washington now holds a half-game over the Raptors, who fell to Cleveland last night.

Note — Guard Gilbert Arenas still is unsure of his return date despite going through a rigorous workout before yesterday’s game. Arenas said he still has a ways to go in the conditioning department.

“I haven’t played four months. I go out there, but I’m still getting tired.,” Arenas said. “I’m still working to get my wind back.” …

Wizards rookie Nick Young missed last night’s game with a right thigh bruise.

Last night at AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami

SEEN AND HEARD

Andray Blatche, who once regularly scored in double figures while filling in for injured starter Caron Butler, has watched his minutes gradually decline in the last month. With Butler out with a hip injury Blatche had a stretch in which he averaged 11.8 points and 8.2 rebounds. But his play tailed off, and Darius Songaila replaced him in the starting lineup Feb. 29.

Coming into last night’s game, Blatche averaged 5.9 points and 4.3 rebounds for the month. In his last four games, he had averaged just 3.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.

“We’d like to see Andray bring a little more professional approach, a little more energy and more alertness,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said . “Life skills show up on basketball courts. If you take care of your body off the floor, you get your rest and you eat right and you lift, it shows up. You’ll see an accelerated growth.

“But if you don’t do those things and you rely on just touch and feel, that doesn’t get it done in the NBA. You’ve got to play harder every night, every possession. You have to prepare your body and your mind emotionally and physically. You’ve got to prepare yourself at the highest level. And we’re just not seeing that right now.”

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