- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2004

The two names that come to mind instantly whenever the Miami Heat are mentioned are Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal. But as the Heat completed their season sweep (4-0) of the Washington Wizards with a 98-93 victory last night at MCI Center, Damon Jones played a huge role.

Unguarded with 21.1 seconds to play, Jones sank a 25-footer from the wing — his fifth 3-pointer of the night — to end Washington’s chance for at least one win against their divisional rivals. The loss dropped the Wizards’ record to 12-8 heading into a four-game western swing.

Jones, averaging 11.0 points for the season, finished with 23.

“We had a little bit of a breakdown,” said Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, who had 22 points, eight assists and four steals. “I got sucked in on Wade when he drove, and it left Jones open. If I had stayed out, it might have been different. But when Wade has 14 points in the fourth quarter, of course he is going to draw attention.”

Now the Wizards, who lost their first three to the Heat by an average of 15 points, will carry the mental burden of knowing the Heat (17-7) are still a better team. Miami has won its last eight games against Washington.

“That’s the biggest thing,” Antawn Jamison said of this season’s shutout against Miami. “You hate to get swept by any team once you look at the opportunities that were there. It’s kind of hard to swallow. But situations like this build character and make you stronger and make you not want to have this feeling again.”

In the Wizards’ last game against Miami on Monday, Jamison, Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes shot a meager 5-for-17, and Washington trailed at one point by 28 points on the way to a 23-point loss. This time it was the Heat’s turn to play from behind for most of the night.

No problem. Wade, questionable going in to last night’s game with a mild left ankle sprain, and Jones combined for 40 of Miami’s 55 second-half points as the Heat rallied from a 75-66 deficit late in the third quarter.

The Heat used a 13-3 run to bridge the third and fourth quarters to tie for the first time since the first quarter at 77-77 with just under nine minutes left. This turned the game into a tug of war in which neither team led by more than four points the rest of the way.

In the process, O’Neal (13 points, 12 rebounds) fouled out in the final minute after punishing the Wizards with a season-high 40 points in the previous meeting. But the Heat really didn’t need much more from O’Neal last night with Wade getting a game-high 29 points and handing out nine assists.

The most emphatic of Wade’s assists was the one he threw to Jones in the final minute. With seemingly every Wizard crowding him, expecting Wade to pop up and attempt a jumper in the lane, Wade spotted Jones, who should have been guarded by Arenas, open for the 3.

“Somebody is supposed to rotate out,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “That was a breakdown.”

Wade and Jones combined to sink three of four free throws the rest of the way. The final seconds of the game saw former Wizard Christian Laettner swat a jumper by Jamison, who finished with 26 points but needed 26 shots to get them.

Hughes added 19 points for the Wizards, who outrebounded the Heat 55-44. Washington made just 19 of 28 free throws, but Miami was an even worse 14-for-24, mostly because O’Neal was 1-for-8 from the line.

So the Wizards won’t see the Heat again this season — unless, of course, they make the playoffs, a place Washington has not visited since 1997.

“I’m glad I don’t have to see them until the playoffs — maybe,” Jordan said, seemingly tongue in cheek. “But I’m glad we’re done with them. They pose a huge problem.”

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