WASHINGTON - The Miami Heat was in a particularly giving mood last night at MCI Center, seemingly fully prepared to hand the Washington Wizards the gift of a rare win over a playoff contender in the season's final two weeks.
But the Wizards weren't quite so ready to accept, and dropped an 86-84 decision before a generously announced crowd of 12,904.
The Wizards sliced a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit to two in the final two minutes, with two chances to tie. But guard Courtney Alexander, who had a game-high 25 points, missed a pair of jumpers on successive possessions.
Alexander's 17-footer from the right wing came up short with just over a minute to play. Then Miami's Brian Grant, who had a team-high 16 points and 12 rebounds, hit a 17-footer from the top of the key to give Miami an 86-82 lead.
Washington's Jahidi White hit a short jump hook with 39.1 seconds remaining to bring the Wizards (18-56) back within two and Washington got a defensive stop, setting the stage for Alexander.
Alexander, a 6-foot-5 rookie from Fresno State, drew single coverage on an isolation play with Miami's Dan Majerle, and dribbled the clock down to about three seconds before firing a 15-footer from the top of the key. The shot bounced off the back rim and over the backboard, out of play.
Alexander, who made three foul shots with 1:53 to go to get the Wizards within two, was disconsolate but philosophical afterward.
"It's a learning process for me," he said. "Obviously, I would rather that last shot had gone in, not only for my benefit, but for the team's benefit. I'm sure I'm going to miss some more shots in my career. I'll try to take some good from it.
"Any basketball player would like to have the ball in their hands in the last seconds in that situation. Unfortunately, it just didn't fall for me."
Said teammate Richard Hamilton: "It's a situation where you live and learn. He had a great look at it. I think he wanted to wind it [the clock] all the way down and play for the last shot. He had a good look at it, and we all thought it was going to go down. Courtney was feeling it and we thought we had a mismatch at that position."
The loss was the Wizards' 11th straight to the Heat (44-30).
Despite 19 turnovers and getting out-rebounded 45-41 - 17-9 on the offensive glass - Miami got a badly needed win to tie the idle New York Knicks for third place in the Eastern Conference playoff race with eight regular-season games left.
Heat center Alonzo Mourning had his most impressive performance in his five games back from missing all season with a kidney ailment: 16 points, three blocked shots and eight rebounds in 23 minutes.
"I feel OK," Mourning said. "It's not really a huge concern on how I feel. I just go out there and play the game. I am just pretty much concerned about our play in general. We haven't been playing well at all and if we expect to make any type of progress in the postseason, we definitely have to improve our play now with these last eight games to go."
Said Washington coach Leonard Hamilton: "Zo blocked a few shots and altered others. His presence and our inability to make the right reads because of his ability to clog the middle really kept us at bay."
NOTES: The Wizards put six-time All-Star guard Mitch Richmond (sprained right knee) on the injured list. Tyrone Nesby was activated.