By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 8, 2005
Gilbert Arenas labeled himself exhausted following Tuesday night's 119-111 overtime victory over the Toronto Raptors, but not because he had just scored 37 points and distributed 10 assists in 49 minutes of intense action. No, the high-energy Arenas had other reasons for being wrung out.
"Man, I'm beat," Arenas said. "I was up playing video games."
Even if the new Xbox system has Arenas, 23, gaming like a seventh-grader, he still approaches basketball like former Chicago Cubs slugger Ernie Banks, who famously said, "Let's play two."
That's impressive, considering that Arenas ranks fourth in the league in minutes played per game (40.9). The only players who clock more court time are Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson (44.1), Boston Celtics guard Ricky Davis (42.4) and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (41.5). Of that group, only Arenas and Iverson can be called their team's primary ballhandler and go-to scorer.
As the Wizards (8-8) prepare for a three-games-in-four-nights stretch that begins tonight on the road against the Indiana Pacers (10-7), Arenas has shown no ill effects from carrying the heavy workload.
Though he occasionally appears to be bothered by a sore right knee that he bruised running into a basket support during a Nov. 23 game at Orlando, Arenas ranks fourth in the NBA in scoring with a 27.7 points per game average, is shooting 44percent from the field and has displayed energy and playmaking acumen in the fourth quarter of close games.
Toronto Coach Sam Mitchell paid Arenas a compliment prior to Tuesday night's game when he lumped the fifth-year guard in with the league's elite players, the kind of difference-makers who emerge when the game is on the line.
"When you have a guy like LeBron [James] or a Gilbert, a Kobe, a guy that can put the ball on the floor and take it for himself and also create a shot for somebody else, that's tough to handle," said Mitchell, who played 13 seasons in the NBA. "That's why there is a separate pay scale. Guys that are really, really, really good and guys that are good. The guys that are really good, they just seem to have a way to will the ball in the basket and that's why you try to get the ball in those guys' hands late in the game."
Arenas showed that ability Tuesday night when he played the entire 12 minutes of the fourth quarter and the entire five minutes of overtime, scored 16 points in those periods and set up forward Antawn Jamison for the game-clinching jump shot with 25 seconds remaining in overtime. In Washington's other overtime win this season, a 120-114 double-overtime victory at Detroit on Nov. 25, Arenas scored 39 points and had eight assists in 53 minutes.
Those performances have convinced Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan that Arenas can handle heavy minutes as well as the heavy decision-making and scoring responsibility he carries into every game.
Arenas ranked third in minutes played last season (40.9), but with the addition of veteran point guard Chucky Atkins this summer, Jordan talked about slightly reducing Arenas's minutes with the idea that he would remain fresh down the stretch of the season. However, Jordan acknowledged that talking about keeping Arenas off the court and actually doing it are two totally different things.
"Well, maybe we'll cut them back when he's 28," Jordan joked yesterday.
"He's shown that he can carry those minutes," Jordan continued. "He's still out there in the fourth quarter hitting shots, driving to the basket, making plays. He's one of those guys like Allen [Iverson], who can carry those kinds of minutes and it doesn't affect him. There are only a few guys like that in the league, and he's definitely one of them."
Last season, Arenas clocked his heaviest minutes during a mid-season stretch when Larry Hughes was out with a fractured right thumb and said the extra duty took its toll. This season, Arenas appears to be in even better physical condition and, as Mitchell noted before watching Arenas wreck his team's hopes for a win Tuesday night, Arenas is learning how to pick his spots like the game's elite players.
"When Larry got hurt, I had to go into full throttle," Arenas said. "When he was out, I was going like 46 minutes but it was 46 hard minutes because I was trying to do everything. But this year, even when I've played 49 minutes, it hasn't been as hard on the body. Last year, I was going home and just falling out. This year, I go home and I feel good."
Good enough to play video games well into the early morning hours?
"Shhhh," said Arenas. "Don't tell anybody."