- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007

MIAMI — The Washington Wizards played as valiantly as they have all season last night, and all they got to show for it was another daunting defeat.

Udonis Haslem of the Miami Heat hit a short shot to hand the Wizards their second loss at the buzzer in two nights 106-104 and their eighth straight at American Airlines Arena.

“It really hurts because we battled. We fought hard,” Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas said moments after the Heat beat them for the 18th time in their last 19 meetings and narrowed Washington’s lead over Miami in the Southeast Division to one game. “We have to pick it up and come back strong the next time we’re out. It’s not over. But, man, this was hard.”

Especially after it looked as if the Wizards (34-28) finally might win in South Florida, something they haven’t done since April 11, 2003. But Haslem beat Antawn Jamison on a little 10-footer just moments after Arenas tied it at 104-104.

Arenas connected on the free throws after Miami’s Gary Payton fouled him in the corner and behind the 3-point line with 3.1 seconds to play. After Arenas — who finished with a game-high 33 points and went 16-for-17 from the line — tied it, overtime seemed likely. But Haslem had others ideas.

With players like Shaquille O’Neal (12 points), Eddie Jones (18) and Payton (17) on the floor, Miami’s Jason Williams triggered the play from the sideline and went directly to Haslem.

“I didn’t think they were going to go to him there, but once the middle cleared out I saw that they were,” said Jamison, who finished with 26 points and 15 rebounds. “I probably should have gotten in better position on the play. But he made a huge shot. Now we have to regroup and get ready for the next one.”

That comes Wednesday, when the Wizards play at Indiana. Meanwhile, they are going to have to get past some bitter losses. On Saturday night, former Maryland standout Steve Francis hit a 3-pointer with time expiring to give the New York Knicks a 90-89 victory over Washington.

What made the latest loss so tough was that the Wizards used a 38-point third quarter to recover from a poor-shooting first half that left them down 56-43 at the break. They opened the third quarter on a 13-0 run and outscored the Heat 38-16 by making 13 of 18 field goal attempts in the period for an 81-72 lead after three.

“We just hit shots,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “That’s pretty much what we did: We hit shots. But they came back, which is what champions do. It’s a hard one to swallow, but we’ll be all right.”

That they were even close last night was a miracle, considering the poor start. With O’Neal on the bench after picking up a second foul early, the Wizards had what looked like a perfect opportunity for a run. Instead they made just 30 percent of their field goals in the first quarter and generally walked around looking as if they were enveloped in a deep funk.

They shook that off in the third quarter, but Miami charged back in the fourth, taking an 85-84 lead with just more than eight minutes remaining. Neither team led by more than three points the rest of the way.

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