- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007

The only things shrinking faster than the Washington Wizards’ lead over Miami in the Southeast Division are the people on the South Beach Diet.

Former Maryland standout Steve Francis saw to that last night when he went from goat to glory by knocking down a running 3-pointer at the buzzer, providing the New York Knicks with a stunning 90-89 victory.

Moments after he hit the game winner under defensive pressure from the Wizards’ Antonio Daniels, Francis jumped on the scorer’s table and led a boisterous celebration in front of the Wizards’ 18th sellout crowd (20,173), and then ran over to the sidelines to hug his grandmother and then his teammates.

“At that stage of the game you just want to be able to focus and hopefully be able to hit the shot,” said Francis, who led all scorers with 26 points. “Especially after I missed a couple of big shots.”

Francis, whose winning shot was from 25 feet, had blown a free throw at the end of what would have been a 3-point play with 7.1 seconds left in the game. That would have tied the game 88-88.

But he got his shot at redemption when the Wizards’ Andray Blatche split a pair of free throws, leaving the door open for Francis’ length-of-the court dash that culminated in the game winner.

“What can you do about that?” said Daniels, whose Wizards dropped to 34-27 with a two-game lead on the Heat. “Sometimes there are things that you have to live with and we have to live with the fact that we lost because he hit a [25] footer. It’s one of those shots where if you hit it, more power to you. But what are the chances that you hit that shot, one in 10? Well, that happened to be that one. We have to live with losing when a guy made one [heck] of a shot.”

That shot has put the Wizards in a one heck of a predicament. Today they play at Miami, which has won 10 consecutive games. Making matters even more daunting, the Wizards have just one victory against the Heat in the teams’ last 18 meetings.

“I am not worried at all,” said Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, who finished with 18 points. “We know what is at stake when we play Miami [today].”

Washington has now lost back-to-back games against Atlanta and New York (29-34), a pair of teams depleted by injury.

The Hawks beat the Wizards without three of their normal starters. Last night the Knicks beat Washington without Quentin Richardson, Jamal Crawford and David Lee.

“We have usually been good at bouncing back,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We are going to a place where people probably don’t think we can win, but that’s a good thing for us.”

Including tonight’s game, the Wizards will play seven of their next eight games away from Verizon Center. This year the Wizards are just 10-18 away from home.

Meanwhile, things are looking a lot better for the Knicks than they did about a month ago. With last night’s victory New York took control of, at least for one night, the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Although they are tied with Orlando record-wise, the Knicks own the tiebreaker.

That they almost lost the game at the foul line shouldn’t have come as a surprise considering that the Knicks were awful there (16-for-28) all night.

But New York played with more intensity and force than Washington for most of the night, and that proved to be the difference.

The Knicks out-rebounded the Wizards 44-35, and scored 40 points in the paint compared to just 26 for Washington.

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