Sunday, May 15, 2005

In the more than seven years since MCI Center opened, it hasn’t been often that the home team has lost a game and walked off the court to a standing ovation.

Then again, an exciting playoff run and an indescribably surprising season — one that ended last night under the weight of another strong performance by Miami’s Dwyane Wade (42 points, seven rebounds) in a 99-95 loss to the Miami Heat — doesn’t happen too often for Washington’s NBA franchise.

The Wizards fought hard late in the fourth quarter, overcoming an 11-point deficit with just more than six minutes to play and even led 95-94 following Antawn Jamison’s 3-pointer with 1:15 to play. But Eddie Jones’ 3-pointer with 14.9 seconds left and Alonzo Mourning’s block of Larry Hughes’ driving layup resulted in a change of possession that allowed Wade, appropriately, to seal the end the Wizards season.

While the Wizards will probably hurt over the sweep, they have no reason to hang their heads, not after the surprisingly successful season the team crafted.

Their 45 wins this season mark the most by a Washington team since the Bullets won 54 during the 1978-79 season; their 29 home victories the most at MCI Center since the building opened in December 1997, and the most home wins overall since they won 30 during the 1988-89 campaign.

“This was a steppingstone for all the good things that are going to happen in this organization,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We wanted to be a lot more competitive as far as wins are concerned in this series. But this is a great learning process for a young team that had to deal with adversity against a team that is really on a mission, one that has all the parts and a coaching staff to accomplish that mission.”

The Heat, who have now beaten the Wizards 12 straight times and are a perfect 8-0 in the playoffs, were once again without injured center Shaquille O’Neal.

O’Neal’s replacement Alonzo Mourning, who ravaged the Wizards for a double-double in the Miami’s Game 3 victory, was hampered by foul trouble and was virtually invisible last night on his way to a scoreless night.

Wade, however, made all of that irrelevant with his virtuoso performance.

What more could anybody ask for than what Wade accomplished in the third quarter, when he scored 22 of the Heat’s 40 points?

Wade toyed with the Wizards in the quarter when he was, well, perfect. He was 7-for-7 from the floor and 8-for-8 from the free throw line.

Wade’s play has been transcendent at times in this series, and last night was no exception, for as he got hot his teammates fell in line behind him.

Damon Jones, who finished with 19 points, was 4-for-5 from the field in the third, including a 4-for-4 showing from the 3-point line.

Overall, the Heat made 70.6 percent of their field goals in the quarter (12 of 17) compared with Washington’s 37.5 percent shooting (six of 16).

That allowed them to survive a stretch in the fourth quarter when they went 9:57 without a basket and missed 16 straight shots.

The Wizards staged one last furious rally that pulled them out of a 94-83 hole to the 95-94 lead when Jamison made a 3-pointer with 1:15 left.

Neither team was able to generate any offense until Wade found Eddie Jones 27 feet away from the basket for the go-ahead 3-pointer.

Washington’s Brendan Haywood finished with career playoff highs in points (18) and rebounds (15). He also blocked a season-high five shots. And Juan Dixon, who scored eight points in the fourth quarter when the Wizards were rallying, finished with 15.

However, the Wizards’ big three of Jamison (10 points), Hughes (15) and Gilbert Arenas (25) had their troubles. Together they combined to shoot just 13-for-49 from the field.

Arenas fouled out with six minutes to play and picked up a technical foul from official Joey Crawford as he left the court, throwing his shirt into the second row behind the Wizards’ bench for the last time this season.

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