WASHINGTON - For Juan Dixon and Steve Blake, it was like old times. For the Washington Wizards, it was nearly an improbable new life in what had appeared to be, and what eventually became a four-game sweep by the Miami Heat in their NBA Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series.
The former Maryland stars, playing what might have been their last game for the Wizards, led Washington from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit into the lead, only to watch Miami win, 99-95, on a three-point shot by Eddie Jones with 14.9 seconds to play, and two subsequent free throws by Dwyane Wade.
With the Heat playing its second straight game without Shaquille O'Neal, Wade scored a playoff-high 42 points, including 22 in the third quarter, to lead Miami. But they almost turned out to be moot points, as Dixon and Blake transformed MCI Center into Cole Field House or Comcast Center.
Dixon hit a pair of three-pointers during the comeback and Blake, who was summoned into rare playoff duty after Gilbert Arenas fouled out with a little more than six minutes to play, lifted his teammates and the crowd by hitting a three-pointer and making several hustle plays during a thrilling 17-3 run.
With the Wizards trailing 94-92, Antawn Jamison hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 1:15 to go. But the rest of the game belonged to the Heat. After Jones made his three-pointer, Alonzo Mourning, playing for the injured O'Neal, blocked Larry Hughes on a drive. Wade was fouled and made both free throws.
The sellout crowd of 20,173 went from disappointed to delirious and back again, but not before giving the Wizards one last ovation for their turnaround season that saw a team fight through injuries to Hughes and Jamison to make the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
"We never gave up," said Dixon, who finished with 15 points. "It's something we learned at Maryland. When Gilbert fouled out, a lot of people counted us out. But Steve gave us a lot of energy and we showed a lot of heart."
In the end, though, it wasn't enough.
The victory gave the Heat its second straight four-game sweep in the playoffs. Miami will now have plenty of time to allow O'Neal's bruised right thigh to heal as it awaits the winner of the Indiana-Detroit series. The Pacers lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 scheduled for today in Indianapolis.
"Winning two games on the road without the most dominant guy in the league really says a lot about us," said Miami coach Stan Van Gundy, whose Heat won its 11th straight game overall and 12th straight against the Wizards. "People want to look at us as a two-man team, but it isn't that way."
Wade had another dominating performance, hitting 13 of 22 shots from the field and 16 of 17 from the free-throw line, and he scored 22 points in the third quarter by making all seven of his field-goal attempts and all eight of his free throws as the Heat turned a 51-47 halftime deficit into an 87-76 lead.
"It was an incredible third quarter by an incredible player," said Van Gundy.
Washington's Big Three were a combined 13 of 49 from the field: Arenas was five of 17, but finished 14 of 19 from the free-throw line; Hughes scored 15 on four of 17 shooting and Jamison finished with 10, shooting four of 15 while continuing to play on a sore right knee.
But the Wizards received some help from center Brendan Haywood, who took advantage of O'Neal's absence and foul trouble for both Mourning and backup center Michael Doleac to finish with 18 points, as well as playoff highs of 15 rebounds and five blocked shots.
It was a disappointing, though expected ending, but a promising season for the Wizards.
"It was a learning process," said second-year coach Eddie Jordan. "We improved a lot during the season and we grew a lot in the playoffs. It's a stepping-stone year for us."
Though their futures in Washington might not be decided for at least another month - or more depending on the outcome of the league's collective bargaining agreement - last night could have been the last game as Wizards for Dixon and Blake, both of whom will become free agents.
Best of seven; *-if necessary
Washington vs. Miami
(Miami wins series, 4-0)
Game 1-Miami 105, Washington 86
Game 2-Miami 108, Washington 102
Game 3-Miami 102, Washington 95
Yesterday-Miami 99, Washington 95
Indiana vs. Detroit
(Indiana leads series 2-1)
Game 1-Detroit 96, Indiana 81
Game 2-Indiana 92, Detroit 83
Game 3-Indiana 79, Detroit 74
Today-Detroit at Indiana, 3:30 p.m.
Tuesday-Indiana at Detroit, TBA
*Thursday-Detroit at Indiana, TBA
*Next Sunday-Indiana at Detroit, TBA
Seattle vs. San Antonio
(San Antonio leads series 2-1)
Game 1-San Antonio 103, Seattle 81
Game 2-San Antonio 108, Seattle 91
Game 3- Seattle 92, San Antonio 91
Today-San Antonio at Seattle, 7 p.m.
Tuesday-Seattle at San Antonio, TBA
*Thursday-San Antonio at Seattle, TBA
*Next Sunday-Seattle at San Antonio, TBA
Dallas vs. Phoenix
(Phoenix leads series 2-1)
Game 1-Phoenix 127, Dallas 102
Game 2-Dallas 108, Phoenix 106
Game 3-Phoenix 119, Dallas 102
Today-Phoenix at Dallas, 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday-Dallas at Phoenix, TBA
*Friday-Phoenix at Dallas, TBA
*Next Sunday-Dallas at Phoenix, TBA