- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

Even without Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat had enough to beat the Washington Wizards 92-83 last night at Verizon Center.

The Wizards have now lost four straight for the second time this season. The result, which came without starting forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison for the third straight game, narrowed the Wizards’ lead over the Heat for first place in the Southeast Division to just 31/2 games. The Heat were playing without Wade, their All-Star guard who was back in Miami nursing his dislocated shoulder and contemplating whether to have season-ending surgery.

The Wizards connected on just 35.8 percent of their shots (29-for-81) for the game. In the fourth quarter, they went 7-for-26 (26.9 percent) from the floor and had made just three field goals until the final three minutes.

“That’s how it’s been the last three games,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We do everything we’re supposed to do, but when the critical moment, the critical time comes, we don’t make the shot. Right now we can’t make critical shots at critical moments.”

And right now nobody is more guilty of that than Gilbert Arenas.

It wasn’t long ago Arenas was toying with teams, making last-second jumpers at the buzzer and putting up huge numbers. But Arenas’ shot is off these days, and last night was no different. Arenas finished with just 15 points on 3-for-18 shooting. He was 0-for-8 from behind the 3-point line, and in the last 12 games he’s 19-for-101 from that distance.

In his last four games Arenas, who did not stick around to discuss his recent shooting woes, is 25-for-85 from the field and 6-for-36 from behind the 3-point line.

DeShawn Stevenson led the Wizards (31-25) with 19 points. Roger Mason Jr. added 11 and Jarvis Hayes 10.

The Heat had four players score in double figures, led by Shaquille O’Neal (23 points, 10 rebounds) and Jason Williams (23 points). Eddie Jones scored 13, while Udonis Haslem had 12 points and 16 rebounds.

“Udonis rebounded the heck out of the ball and Shaq made some big plays at the end of the game,” Heat coach Pat Riley said. “He carried the load for us offensively. I thought we did a decent job on Gilbert. We didn’t let him get off. They miss their two guys, Caron and Antawn. We miss Dwyane.”

The defending NBA champion Heat haven’t hit their stride all season long. And now they are faced with the prospects of playing the rest of the season without 2006 NBA Finals MVP.

The only team to win the Southeast Division since its inception three seasons ago, Miami has dominated the Wizards like no other team in the league. The Wizards ended the Heat’s run of 16 consecutive victories over them when they defeated an injury-depleted team — O’Neal, Wade and Williams missed the game because of injury — 106-95 at Verizon Center on Dec. 15.

Playing without Butler and Jamison is starting to take a toll on the Wizards, who hope to have both players back at least by Sunday, when they play host to Golden State.

Without those two, the defensive plan against the Wizards is pretty simple: load up on Arenas. That won’t be the case when Butler and Jamison return. According to a team source, both players will be back Sunday, and at least one could be back tomorrow when the Wizards play Atlanta.

While Jordan is eager to see Butler and Jamison back, he knows their returns won’t guarantee the Wizards will revert to the form they exhibited before injuries started to crop up.

“It’s not a gimme,” Jordan said. “As I told the team after the game, if the cavalry comes around the corner on Friday or Sunday it’s not guaranteed that you’re going to win. You have to still execute to get open shots. And quite frankly the guys are going to be rusty when they come back. Who knows? Maybe the basketball gods will look upon us, and they’ll come back rather quickly.”

Note — The Wizards signed former George Washington forward Mike Hall to a 10-day contract earlier in the day. Hall, cut during training camp, was with the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA Developmental League. In 29 games he averaged 15.6 points and 8.5 rebounds.

To make room for Hall, the Wizards waived center James Lang.

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