WASHINGTON -- The Miami Heat came into the MCI Center last night as one of the NBA's surprise teams this season. The shock wasn't that the Heat had won four of its first five games, but that a team known for its strong-armed defense had suddenly gone run-and-gun.
Leading the league in scoring, the Heat didn't show any sign of slowing down during the first quarter against the Washington Wizards. Miami built its lead to 23 points late in the quarter and led by 20 when the buzzer mercifully sounded. But a funny thing happened in the second quarter.
The Wizards showed up.
They erased nearly all of their deficit in the span of nine minutes, and climbed into the lead in the third quarter. Yet they couldn't sustain their momentum, and eventually fell apart again, losing, 104-95, before 13,941.
It was the fifth straight defeat for the Wizards, who haven't won since opening night and now must go on the road tonight to play the Indiana Pacers. The string of losses has worn on the Washington players and first-year coach Gar Heard, and their frustration is evident.
"It was good to see us that we didn't give up, but it was very frustrating to play the way we did in the first quarter, and it was frustrating to lose the game after coming back," said forward Juwan Howard.
It was hard to tell if Heard was more upset with his team's start or its finish.
The Wizards fell behind by deficits of 9-2, 21-4, 27-6 and eventually 30-8 before going on a 21-4 run to open the second quarter. Washington cut its deficit to two points twice in the quarter and trailed at halftime, 53-48.
But after the Wizards took a 66-64 lead on a power layup by forward Aaron Williams with 4: 23 left in the third quarter -- Washington's only lead of the game -- Miami scored on its next three possessions and never looked back. A 13-2 run midway through the fourth quarter broke open the game.
Asked if his team's second-quarter comeback sapped its fourth-quarter energy, Heard said, "The guys we had out there at the end hadn't been out there the whole game. Our bench did a great job getting us back in the game. Hopefully, our starters could finish the game."
They couldn't, but the Heat could. Miami got double figures from all five starters. Center Alonzo Mourning led Miami with 25 points and nine rebounds, while point guard Tim Hardaway finished with 22 points, 11 assists and only one turnover in 42 minutes.
"It was a great win for us," said Miami coach Pat Riley, whose team has won four straight. "We played so well in the first quarter and took a pretty major hit in the second quarter. I thought we played very well in the fourth quarter."
It marked the fifth time in six games this season that the Heat scored more than 100 points. While last night's production dropped Miami's scoring average to just under 111 points a game, it still represents an increase of 18 points from last season.
But it might be a byproduct of a fairly easy early-season schedule. That will change tomorrow, when the Heat plays the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. It will be a rematch of the last year's playoff upset, when the eighth-seeded Knicks knocked off the top-seeded Heat.