All the Wizards had to do was stop Dwyane Wade, something they had not done with much success in the fourth quarter of last night's game at MCI Center. As Wade drove to the basket, the Wizards collapsed on the talented second-year guard.
Too bad they forgot about Damon Jones. Taking a kick-out pass from Wade, Jones hit a wide-open three-point shot, his fifth of the game, to lift the Heat into the lead and - with the help of a partial block by ex-Wizard Christian Laettner on the next possession - to a 98-93 win.
"We've run that play time and time again all year. Defenses are doing the same thing every time, trying to cut off his drive to the basket," Jones said. "They know if he gets to the basket, he's finishing, causing havoc against the defense."
Wade has caused much havoc for the Wizards, particularly here. After scoring 37 points last month, Wade scored 29 last night, including 14 in the final quarter. Jones added a season-high 23 points in helping Miami (17-7) to its sixth straight win.
It was a heartbreaking defeat for Washington (12-8), which led for most of the game and by as many as 10 points with 2:44 left in the third quarter.
"Saying this one was a tough one to lose is an understatement," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. "We competed very hard, we were physical, we played unselfishly, and we competed at the highest level. We had a few breakdowns down the stretch and they took advantage."
It was disappointing because the Wizards had kept O'Neal under control, holding the massive center to 13 points after he scored 40 in Monday night's 23-point victory over the Wizards in Miami.
Washington seemed to have a letdown when O'Neal went to the bench with foul trouble late in the third quarter, when Miami cut its deficit to 75-71 going into the fourth quarter, and again when he fouled out.
"We just didn't guard the basket when Shaq went out," said Wizards guard Larry Hughes. "In the fourth quarter, we didn't keep the guys out of the paint. Guys got layups. I don't think we let our guard down because he was out, we just didn't guard the basket."
Antawn Jamison, whose shot on a drive was tipped by Laettner with 10.9 seconds left, led the Wizards with 26 points. Gilbert Arenas scored 22, and Larry Hughes added 19. Washington was swept by Miami this season.
"I'm glad I don't have to see them until the playoffs - maybe," Jordan said. "I don't want to see them then, but I do want to see the playoffs and maybe they're there. I'm glad we're done with them. They pose a huge problem."
Here's another problem: The Wizards will leave today for their first West Coast swing, a four-game, five-night trip that begins tomorrow in Los Angeles against the Lakers, and also includes stops in Phoenix, Golden State and Sacramento.
The defeat left the Wizards, their coach in particular, in a sour mood, especially over a couple of timeouts the Heat was allowed to call down the stretch, the first which looked as if Wade dragged both feet as he slipped, and the second when Jones seemed to be tied up by Arenas.
"It was just one of those nights when you just didn't seem to get the breaks," said Jordan.