- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

MIAMI — The Washington Wizards’ 87-86 road victory Wednesday night over the Orlando Magic was an upset of sorts considering Orlando is third in the Eastern Conference with a 45-25 record while the Wizards (34-33) cling to a half-game lead over Philadelphia for sixth place.

But defeating vaunted opponents is nothing new for the Wizards. Despite its many injuries, Washington has managed two victories each over Boston (54-13), New Orleans (46-21) and Dallas (44-24).

The Wizards, though, have a habit of following impressive victories with losses to weaker opponents. They lost to the New York Knicks (19-48) two nights after beating the Celtics. They fell to Charlotte (24-44) a day after beating the fifth-place Raptors in Toronto in overtime. And this week they followed their first three-game winning streak since Jan. 14 with a loss to the visiting Atlanta Hawks (29-39).

Tonight the Wizards visit Miami, another team Washington figures to beat. Far removed from their 2006 NBA championship, the Heat have the worst record in the league (12-55) and are last in scoring (93.1 points).

The Heat will take the court without franchise player Dwyane Wade, who is out for the season with a knee injury. Also gone is Shaquille O’Neal — traded last month to Phoenix for Shawn Marion, who is on the bench with a back injury. In Wednesday’s loss to Toronto — a game in which the Heat managed just 54 points, fewest in the NBA since the start of the shot clock era — Miami used only seven players because another four were hobbled by injuries.

Despite the Heat’s woes, the Wizards feel a sense of urgency and are guarding against another letdown.

“You don’t have to worry about that at all,” Wizards captain Antawn Jamison said following Wednesday’s win. “We know their record says a lot, but so many situations have happened [like] teams coming in and beating Orlando like we did tonight. We have [an extra] day out there in Miami; we can’t count the sunrays and let them melt your brain a bit. We’re going to come out focused.”

To make sure of that, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan instituted a 1 a.m. curfew when his players reached Orlando on Tuesday night and laid down the same rules last night in Miami, stressing that the Wizards are on a business trip.

The Wizards have placed high importance on beating Miami because a victory would put them two games above .500 when they play Detroit at home Sunday and then embark on a five-game, seven-day western trip.

Meanwhile, the Wizards must keep an eye on surging Philadelphia, which has won 10 of 12. A Wizards loss to Miami and a Sixers win over the Magic tonight would give the teams identical records, and Philadelphia owns the tiebreaker with a 2-1 record against Washington.

“This is the must-win game for us, and we need to play that way,” Jamison said. “[Miami is] a Pat Riley team. Anytime you have a Pat Riley team, you know they’re going to play hard, and we need to be aware of that. … We’ve had key guys out throughout the season, and we came up with some big wins. So we definitely know what it takes to play the underdog role.”

Gilbert Arenas took part in most of yesterday’s practice but was held out during some of the latter stages. There still is no timetable for his return, though Arenas said Wednesday night he hoped to return “way before the playoffs” and “within the week.” He said he won’t play tonight against the Heat.

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