With their All-Star guard back in the fold for the first time since November, the Wizards will try to clinch a playoff berth on Friday - and avoid losing their fourth straight game - when they look to complete the franchise’s first four-game series sweep of the Heat.
Washington is currently in a three-way tie for fifth with Toronto and Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference.
The Wizards (38-37) hadn’t dropped as many as three in a row since they lost eight straight from Jan. 30-Feb. 11, a stretch when they were without 20-point-per-game scorer Caron Butler for all but two games. Butler would miss another month with a hip injury, but when he returned on March 13, the Wizards reeled off seven wins in nine games.
The first two losses of their latest skid weren’t a surprise - they dropped games on back-to-back nights to the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah, a pair of Western Conference powers.
Their latest defeat was a stunner. On Wednesday, Washington led Milwaukee - who hadn’t won a road game since Feb. 5 - by eight after three quarters, but lost 110-109 thanks to Ramon Sessions’ jumper at the buzzer. That came seconds after Arenas, who wasn’t expected to play, had given his team a one-point lead in his first game back since Nov. 16.
“The script was planned out the right way,” Wizards guard Roger Mason said. “He hit the two free throws at the end of the game, and I kind of thought that was the end. A great story line: ‘Arenas back.’ But Sessions hit a crazy shot at the end.”
Arenas had 17 points in just 20 minutes, and was one of six Wizards in double figures. But just as it appeared Washington was as healthy as it’s been since the season began, two more key players went down.
Antawn Jamison, who leads the team with 21.5 points per game, suffered a sprained right shoulder trying to save a loose ball with just seconds left. Starting guard DeShawn Stevenson, meanwhile, sprained his right ankle on the same play. Neither Jamison nor Stevenson has missed a game this season, but it’s uncertain if either will play against Miami (13-62).
If Jamison or Stevenson have to sit out on Friday, the Wizards now have a career 22.9-point scorer back in their lineup. Arenas is averaging 30.0 points in his last six games against the Heat.
He hasn’t faced Miami this season, but it hasn’t mattered. Washington has won the three games in the series by an average of 17.3 points, and with a win Friday, can sweep the Heat for the first time since Miami’s inaugural 1988-89 season, when the teams only met twice.
The Bucks are the only team the Heat have been able to beat recently. Miami has dropped 16 of 18, with its only two victories coming against Milwaukee.
The Heat have lost five straight - their last four by at least 20 points - including a 106-77 loss to New Orleans on Wednesday.
“We keep getting off to these bad starts and it is hard to recover,” coach Pat Riley said.
Chris Quinn has been one of the lone bright spots for the injury-plagued Heat. The second-year guard is averaging 15.0 points and 6.4 assists in his last seven games.
Quinn had 22 points and a career-high six 3-pointers in a 104-91 loss to Washington on Dec. 13.