Heat 85, Wizards 82
MIAMI (AP)—Just as they have so many times over the course of the season, the Miami Heat saw their depth pay big dividends.
And the result was another Southeast Division crown—not the ultimate goal, but a nice prize nonetheless.
Antoine Walker scored 19 points and took two crucial charges late in the fourth quarter, Dwyane Wade added 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and the defending NBA champion Heat wrapped up the division with an 85-82 victory over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.
“I don’t know if we’re necessarily proud,” said backup center Michael Doleac, who came through with seven points in the final quarter with the game on the line, “but it’s definitely something that’s positive.”
The win assures Miami will have no worse than the fourth seed for the Eastern Conference playoffs. But unless Toronto collapses down the stretch, Miami will likely open the postseason on the road because its record won’t be among the best four in the conference.
“It’s an ongoing process until next week,” Heat coach Pat Riley said.
Brendan Haywood had 14 points and 10 rebounds for Washington, which has dropped six straight games—the last five by a combined 26 points. The Wizards, who are without leading scorers Gilbert Arenas (knee) and Caron Butler (hand) went for the lead with 7.8 seconds left, but Antonio Daniels’ 3-point try from the right corner was blocked by Alonzo Mourning.
Doleac made one free throw with 5 seconds left, pushing the margin to three, and Donell Taylor’s 3-point attempt for the Wizards bounced off the backboard as time expired.
“It was just another game where we didn’t make the big stop or the big play at the end to win,” Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. “The bottom line is we’re playing with a fairly new team in a sense. We’re building something from almost a foundation. We have to be patient.”
“It’s been the story the last three or four games,” Hayes said. “We played good for 3 1/2 quarters and when it gets down to the last couple of minutes, the other team—Miami tonight—makes the stop and the key bucket at the end.”
Eddie Jones had 10 points for Miami, which was without Shaquille O’Neal, who attended his paternal grandfather’s funeral in Newark, N.J. earlier in the day, and Udonis Haslem, sidelined by a sore groin.
“Of course our goal is higher,” Wade said afterward, when asked what the division title meant. “Our goal is to get to the championship and defend our title. This was something we expected coming in, but it was hard on us.”
With Wade still working his way back into form after a shoulder dislocation forced him to miss 6 1/2 weeks and with O’Neal out for the 41st time this season, the Heat struggled in the first half, yet went into the break only down 37-35.
Miami scored just 10 points—one off its season low—in the second quarter and didn’t have anyone manage more than seven points before intermission.
Still, the Wizards couldn’t take advantage. They held the Heat to 23 percent shooting in the second quarter, but only connected on 32 percent of their tries.
Washington opened the third quarter with a quick spurt that ended when DeShawn Stevenson hit a 3-pointer to put the Wizards up 48-41, their largest edge. But Miami responded just as quickly, with Walker getting eight of 10 unanswered Heat points over the next 1:50 and staking his team to a 51-48 edge.
“To battle back from six games under .500, to come back and win the division is a tremendous confidence boost for everybody,” Walker said.
Washington scored five times to tie the game in the first 6:23 of the fourth, and broke through to claim a 77-76 lead—its first in 11 minutes—on Mason’s 3-pointer from the right corner with 4:55 left. The lead changed hands twice more from there, the last time when Wade found Mourning with an underhand scoop pass for a dunk with 1:23 left.
Jordan called his first timeout just 66 seconds into the game, with his team down 5-2. … The Heat used 11 of their 12 active players, with Earl Barron going in early in the fourth to play inside with Doleac. … Washington’s last win at Miami was exactly four years earlier—April 11, 2003. … Miami’s shot 67 percent in the third quarter, 29 points better than Washington, yet outscored the Wizards only 27-23 in the period.