- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

The Washington Wizards could be propped up as exhibit A in an argument for the existence of curses, voodoo and black magic.

Once again, the Wizards tried to field a team with Jerry Stackhouse, Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes — who missed 19 games with a fractured wrist before returning yesterday — in the lineup, and once again they were thwarted.

Arenas, who missed 26 games with a severely strained abdominal muscle and groin injury, stuck around for just 22 scoreless minutes before leaving the game with a sprained right ankle (X-rays were negative) as the Miami Heat manhandled the Wizards 101-81. Washington was denied a three-game winning streak for the seventh time this season.

Through 69 games, Stackhouse (who only has played 18 games because of knee surgery), Arenas and Hughes have played just 11 games together.

“Somehow I knew. I knew it,” Arenas said, fighting back laughter over the threesome’s bad luck. “You get in a rhythm. It was my turn. I guess we’re allowed to have two at a time. It was my turn to go out, and when I come back somebody else is going down. That’s how it feels right now. I mean, I don’t know what to say.”

Arenas left MCI Center wearing a walking cast.

“It’s just incredible,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “The same thing happened with Larry. We get the three guys back, and then after 2 games he goes down. Hopefully this is just a mild strain. We’re looking at maybe Thursday.”

That likely rules out Arenas for tomorrow’s game at Utah. The Wizards play at the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.

Hughes, who hadn’t appeared in a game since Feb.7, clearly was rusty. He missed his first eight shots before sinking a 9-foot jumper off the backboard early in the third quarter. He finished with eight points on 3-for-14 shooting.

“I’ve been out six weeks, so I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect,” said Hughes, who replaced Mitchell Butler in the starting lineup. “I took shots within the offense, took open shots. I just didn’t put them in the hole.”

The Wizards (22-47), who dropped to 1-19 in the Atlantic Division, got some performances of note despite the end result. Rookie guard Steve Blake came off the bench to score a career-high 22 points — including five 3-pointers to tie a career high. Also, backup center Etan Thomas scored 11 points to go along with a career-high 16 rebounds.

Despite a 16-0 run extending from the first quarter into the second that put the Wizards ahead 29-17, Washington could do nothing to slow the Heat in the second and third quarters. Miami made 28 of 42 shots (66 percent) en route to a 76-51 lead with 2:43 left in the third.

Miami (33-37) is one of the better stories in the league this season. The Heat had to adjust to first-time coach Stan Van Gundy after the iconoclastic Pat Riley resigned just before the start of the season. But with yesterday’s easy victory — paced by underrated rookie guard Dwyane Wade’s 22 points and six rebounds — Miami has won eight more games than it won last season. If the playoffs started right now, the Heat would be seeded sixth in the East.

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