- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

MIAMI — When the NBA schedule-makers drew up last night’s late-season matchup between the Washington Wizards and the Miami Heat, they probably thought they had a potential barn-burner.

But what they got were two injury-riddled teams trying to build some momentum for the postseason.

The Wizards lost the game 85-82, dropping their sixth in a row to fall 31/2 games behind the Heat, who clinched the Southeast Division championship behind Antoine Walker (19 points) and Dwyane Wade 16 points.

The loss also dropped the Wizards (39-39) back to .500 for the first time since they were 12-12 on Dec. 18.

The Wizards need to start winning soon, or they could drop to the seventh seed. After last night, they lead seventh-seeded New Jersey by just 11/2 games.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan — wanting to ease the wear and tear on starters Antawn Jamison, DeShawn Stevenson and Antonio Daniels — gave extensive playing time to younger players Roger Mason Jr., Andray Blatche and Donnell Taylor, who are in the rotation now that Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler are out for the season.

“We are building something here and we have to be patient with it,” Jordan said. “We’re almost starting from the foundation. Hopefully when the bright lights come on we want to be more effective than we are right now. Obviously we want to win games.”

The six-game losing streak is the Wizards’ longest since Jordan’s first season with the Wizards in 2003-04, when the team went 25-57. That team closed the season losing 18 of 23 games. From March 5 through March 17, Washington lost seven straight games.

The Wizards, who haven’t won since they defeated Milwaukee on April 1, will try to avoid dropping their seventh straight tomorrow in Atlanta.

As has been the case in so many games recently, the Wizards — losers of 19 of their last 20 against Miami — competed until the end.

Stevenson put the Wizards ahead 82-81 with a 3-pointer with 1:36 left in the game. But Alonzo Mourning, starting in place of Shaquille O’Neal (out of town for his grandfather’s funeral) put the Heat ahead for good with a dunk.

Down 84-82 after Wade split a pair of free throws, the Wizards’ next possession ended in a shot-clock violation with 5.3 seconds left.

Washington still had one last chance at the win after Miami’s Michael Doleac made the second of two free throws. But Taylor’s 3-pointer as time expired never had a chance to go in.

“We’ve got to find ways to win games at the end,” said Brendan Haywood, who came off the bench to post team highs in both points (14) and rebounds (10). “Close doesn’t count for much, only in horseshoes and hand grenades. Close doesn’t really count that much because we’ve been close in all our games since our guys went down.”

Jarvis Hayes added 13 points and Jamison had 11.

Wade, last season’s NBA Finals MVP, was playing in just his second game since dislocating his left shoulder against Houston Feb. 21.

Wade, who wore a body-hugging sleeve to protect an injury that many have suggested will require surgery for him to fully recover from, also had seven assists and six rebounds.

While he is still shaking off rust on his game, he looked pretty good in the second quarter when he went through the heart of the Wizards’ defense for an uncontested dunk.

The last time the Wizards were here, they lost on a last-second Udonis Haslem jumper, just one night after losing to New York on a last-second 3-pointer.

Last night, Haslem (groin) wasn’t in the lineup, and neither was reserve guard Gary Payton (calf).

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