- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 31, 2005

There are no billy goats involved in this, no Bambinos or anything else like that. Nobody expects this “curse” to go on for decades.

But if the Washington Wizards ever expect to knock off Miami, they are going to have to shoot the ball better than they did last night in the fourth quarter of their 128-113 loss at MCI Center — their 14th in a row to the Heat.

“That’s just what the best teams do, they went to a different level,” said Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, now 0-17 as a coach against the Heat. “I thought our guys competed, but right now they’re just better than us.”

It was the most points scored by a Wizards’ opponent this season, and 37 of them came in the fourth quarter.

That same quarter began with the Wizards missing nine of their first 10 shots. The Wizards were just 5-for-22 in the final 12 minutes.

Washington squandered a career-high 47 points from Gilbert Arenas, the most scored by a Wizard since Michael Jordan had an MCI Center-record 51 on Dec. 29, 2001 against the Charlotte Hornets.

Arenas, who was 15 of 29 from the floor, also finished with eight assists and seven rebounds for the Wizards (12-16). But as brilliant as he was through three quarters — he had 44 points — Arenas was just 6-for-16 from the field in the second half and one of six in a fourth quarter in which Miami outscored the Wizards by 17.

Arenas dismissed talk of a curse.

“It’s mental,” he said. “We had mental breakdowns in the fourth quarter that we have to correct on our own.”

Gary Payton, a backup point guard who had 10 points and seven assists for the Heat (18-13), said how difficult it was to slow down Arenas: “We tried to funnel him to the hole and he wasn’t getting all the calls he was getting in the first half,” Payton said. “You try to keep pressure on him and hope that he misses shots. It’s hard in this game to contain a person who scores like he does in today’s game. You just have to try to stay in front of him and hope that he misses a lot of shots.”

Miami, the Southeast Division leader, has at least one player — Dwyane Wade — with a similar scouting report.

Wade scored 26 of his 34 points in the second half, including 18 of 21 free throws. He also had eight rebounds and five assists.

Miami also has Shaquille O’Neal, who looks as if he is rounding into shape these days after an ankle injury kept him out of action for more than a month.

O’Neal finished with 28 points on 11-for-15 shooting. He also grabbed 10 rebounds and helped the Heat, which made 55 percent of its shots, forge a 52-42 rebound advantage.

“We match up with them pretty well,” O’Neal said. “We always play hard. We knew that we had beaten them 13 in a row and that they were going to come with their extra energy. So we had to pick up our energy also.”

Reserve center Etan Thomas finished with 13 points, a season-high 11 rebounds and two blocks. Starting center Brendan Haywood did not fare as well against O’Neal, finishing with four points and two rebounds in 15 minutes.

Antawn Jamison added 20 points for Washington, and Caron Butler finished with 19 points and nine rebounds against the team that drafted him.

The Wizards streak of futility against the Heat dates to April 11, 2003, including a four-game sweep in the second round of the playoffs last season and an overtime loss in their first meeting of the season in Miami.

The loss was their seventh in a row to the Heat at MCI Center.

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