By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Washington Wizards fans have grown accustomed to watching Gilbert Arenas dash upcourt and slice through opponents before making difficult shots. But this season, they're just as often seeing something else: Arenas, hands raised, pleading with a referee for a call that will never come.
Arenas is averaging a solid 25.9 points and 6.5 assists, but he's shooting just 38.9 percent and particularly has struggled on the road. To hear Arenas tell it, referees are to blame for his up-and-down performance.
"At the end of the day, I don't think they are calling the game the same way they called it last year," Arenas said following Tuesday's 96-95 win over the Atlanta Hawks. "It's just real inconsistent right now and I'm trying to figure out the angle to take. But once the middle of the season comes, like every other year, it will even out."
Arenas was frustrated after Tuesday's win because he was called for a pair of offensive fouls in the game's final 1 minute 29 seconds. On the first call, Arenas was whistled for attempting to drive through Salim Stoudamire's body as Arenas tried to finish a fast break. On the second, Arenas was driving to his left and was called for using his right arm to shove off on Tyronn Lue.
At different points this season, Arenas has felt he has been improperly called for charging and also feels the referees have missed some obvious fouls when he's driven to the basket.
Arenas is averaging 8.6 free throws per game this season, slightly down from last season when he averaged 10 free throws. He ranks 12th in the league in free throws per game, well behind fellow scorers such as Miami's Dwyane Wade (11.6), Philadelphia's Allen Iverson (10.9), Boston's Paul Pierce (10.5) and Cleveland's LeBron James (10.4).
Arenas studies individual referees so he can adapt his playing style to their tendencies, but so far this season the extra study only appears to have further confused him about how a game is being called.
His troubles began almost from the moment the regular season started, when he picked up three first-half fouls in the opener at Cleveland, lost some aggressiveness and wound up scoring seven points in a three-point loss to the Cavaliers.
Even though he clearly hasn't been pleased with the referees, Arenas has not been assessed a technical foul for complaining as have several other NBA players, including New Orleans Hornets guard Bobby Jackson, who was fined $20,000 for failing to leave the court in a timely manner following an ejection on Saturday. Rather than yelling or acting in a demonstrative manner, Arenas uses a conversational tone with the referees and usually waits for a stoppage in play to walk up and make his point.
Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan is well aware of his star's obsession with the referees and has repeatedly encouraged Arenas to concentrate more on things he can control. So far, that hasn't worked.
"Obviously, we're going to ride him, but we do need to get him a little bit more poised out there," Jordan said. "He needs to think about the game; he's getting distracted. You can get caught up in calls and things like that, but it's been happening too long now and we have to fix that."
Arenas's inconsistent play has been mirrored by that of the Wizards, who are 0-7 on the road and will carry a 5-9 record into tomorrow's game against the Charlotte Bobcats at Verizon Center.
Forward Caron Butler, who has played with pure scorers such as Wade and Kobe Bryant, has encouraged Arenas to focus less on the way a game is being called and more on playing his game.
"Calls go against him sometimes, but as a star player he has to understand that he needs to stay aggressive and stay positive and continue to do what he does," Butler said. "He's a star. He's a star in this league and he earns everything he gets, so he just has to play through the adversity and everything will turn back in his favor."