- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2006

HOUSTON — Antawn Jamison appeared to find himself in the perfect situation.

The ball swung masterfully from Gilbert Arenas to Donnell Taylor to Antonio Daniels in the corner before, lastly, to the recently hot-handed Jamison.

To help the situation, Houston’s defenders had been scrambling, and the man assigned to Jamison, Ryan Bowen, was so confused he fell down in front of Jamison.

That might have been the problem.

With time expiring and the Washington Wizards down two, Jamison’s would-be game-winning 3-pointer harmlessly clanked off the back of the rim. The Wizards, who rallied furiously to get back in the game, came up short 105-103 to Houston at Toyota Center last night.

“We got them to a point where they were scrambling,” said Jamison, who finished with 28 points and nine rebounds (including going 4-for-9 from 3-point range ). “A.D. made a perfect pass. The thing that messed me up was when I saw [Ryan] fall to the floor because I was so open. It felt good. It just didn’t go in. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. The coaching staff did a great job as far as putting us in position to win the game. I had the opportunity to do it. I just didn’t come through.”

The play began with 16.3 seconds left, and it appeared as if the Wizards (37-34), who trailed by 15 points late in the fourth quarter, might pull off the win.

The plan was for Arenas (27 points, 11 assists, four steals) to make a decision with the ball.

He lost control of it and still had the sense of mind to pass it out to Taylor. He also thought he had been fouled by Houston’s Rafer Alston on the play.

“What happens when you try to shoot and the ball goes up in the air? It’s a foul,” lamented Arenas, who said he was going for a game-winning 3-pointer. “But we still got the ball to a great shooter. I thought it was going in. We all thought it was going in.”

Wizard coach Eddie Jordan felt comfortable with Jamison’s shot.

“He’s had it going from outside ever since January,” Jordan said. “It looked like it was going in. I thought we fought hard and we gave ourselves a chance to win at the end, which is all you can ask for.”

The Wizards had to battle back because they had no answer for Yao Ming earlier. Yao, who is playing the best basketball of his career, dominated, matching a season high in points (38) and grabbing 11 rebounds .

The Rockets (32-40) have struggled all season at the offensive end under coach Jeff Van Gundy. They came into last night’s game averaging 90.7 points , worse than any team in the league except Portland.

But the Rockets didn’t look anything like the Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight in the first half, especially late in the second quarter.

Led by Yao’s 20, three Rockets already had reached double digits in scoring.

Luther Head finished with 20 points, and Alston added 19 points and eight assists for Houston.

While the Rockets made just a shade less than 58 percent of their field goals in the half, the Wizards were still close late in the second quarter.

Daniels pulled the Wizards even at 44-44 when he converted a layup with 4:19 left in the half.

But the Wizards made just two more field goals the rest of the half. The Rockets took advantage and closed the half on an 18-6 run to lead 62-50 at the half .

Down by 15 points following a pair of free throws by Yao with 2:58 left in the third, the Wizards proceeded to outscore the Rockets 22-8 and narrow the Rockets’ lead to just 87-86.

But during most of the run Yao sat on the bench, catching his breath. He returned in the fourth, and the Rockets pushed their lead back to 10 with 4:21 left. Washington wasn’t through, though.

The Wizards got within 102-99 on a pair of free throws by Arenas, and after Yao failed to score at the other end, Jared Jeffries (15 points, nine boards) cut the lead to 102-101 when he slammed home a follow of Daniels’ missed layup in traffic.

Houston went right back to Yao, and he delivered, restoring the Rockets’ lead to 104-101 with a 14-footer along the baseline over Jeffries.

Jeffries put the Wizards in position to win when he scored on a layup with 16.7 seconds remaining.

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