- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2003

For a long time, the Washington Wizards tried to sound macho when they talked about the absence of injured players Jerry Stackhouse and Gilbert Arenas.

But in the aftermath of last night’s 92-84 loss to the Miami Heat before 15,824 at MCI Center, both the players and coach Eddie Jordan alluded to the absence almost in code terms.

After a game that kept them winless in the NBA’s Atlantic Division — possibly the worst division in North American pro sports this year — it became increasingly clear how much the Wizards (8-19) miss their two best players.

“I never imagined [being 0-8 against division foes] at the beginning of the season, but I never imagined the circumstances that would cause that happening,” Larry Hughes said. “But it’s taking a toll. It’s that extra push that we just don’t have. We don’t have it, and we can’t get it.

“We play games so close,” continued Hughes, who led the Wizards with 21 points. “It’s hard when we play games so hard and we don’t have that push. If we had that push, we’d be fine right now. If we were able to have that surge like we knew we were going to have on this team this season, I know things would be different.”

Said Jordan: “It feels like the plague. It’s like a bad sickness. We’re fighting through it, and it gets worse. I guess it has to get worse before it gets better.”

But the Wizards aren’t likely to get better before they get healthy. Stackhouse has missed the entire season following knee surgery, and Arenas has missed 13 of the last 14 games with a strained abdomen. Arenas could return by next week, but there is no timetable for Stackhouse.

The Wizards could have used them in the final 7:37 last night. Washington took a 78-74 lead on Brendan Haywood’s three-point play, but it was the last basket the Wizards made.

Miami went ahead for good on Brian Grant’s jumper with 3:47 left as Washington missed its final nine shots from the field and lost for the seventh time in eight games.

Five Wizards scored in double figures. Jarvis Hayes finished with 14 points, and Etan Thomas had 13 points and 10 rebounds. Haywood came off the bench to score 11 points, and Kwame Brown added 10 points and seven rebounds in reserve.

Miami, which won for just the third time on the road, was led by Eddie Jones’ 22 points. Lamar Odom had 17 points and eight rebounds. Rookie Dwyane Wade, who left the game late in the fourth quarter with a wrist injury, also had 17 as the Heat (12-17) beat the Wizards for the third time this season.

Despite the horrendous results to this point, Jordan did not sound as if the Wizards were looking into any roster moves. General manager Ernie Grunfeld has said the roster can’t be evaluated fairly until the team has its full complement of players.

“We have who we have,” Jordan said. “We’ve tried different rotations; we’ve tried different lineups. I like our lineup. I like our team as far as our growth. We just haven’t won games, and it’s going to get tougher and tougher every night. It’s just the fact of the matter.”

Washington had early success from the outside last night, and when Hughes nailed a 15-footer with a little less than three minutes to play in the first quarter, the Wizards had a 24-16 lead. However, Miami’s defense held the Wizards to just one field goal the rest of the quarter.

Conversely, Miami started to get hot from the outside. Jones nailed back-to-back 3-pointers, and Rafer Alston followed with another to pull the Heat within 26-25 with 1:10 left in the quarter.

After making 55 percent of their shots in the first quarter to lead by 28-27, the Wizards reverted to the poor shooting team they have been much of the season. Washington made just five of 20 attempts from the floor in the quarter, including just one of its final 12 on Etan Thomas’ layup with 2:32 remaining in the half.

Meanwhile, Miami started to find its own comfort zone. With Wade becoming significantly more aggressive — he scored 11 points in the quarter — the Heat shot 52.6 percent from the floor. That enabled Miami to go from that eight-point deficit in the first quarter to a 47-42 lead late in the second.

With Odom scoring 11 consecutive points, Miami took its biggest lead of the game to that point at 63-55 following Jones’ 3-pointer with 5:19 to play in the quarter.

However, Miami was unable to pull away from the Wizards. Not known as an offensive-minded team, the Heat scored only one more basket the rest of the quarter. As a result, the Wizards capped a 12-4 run with Hughes’ 3-pointer to pull even at 67-67 heading into the fourth quarter.

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