Wizards Are Encouraged by Progress of Arenas

Atlanta's Josh Childress, center, draws a foul from Washington's Caron Butler (3) in the opening quarter as the Wizards' Brendan Haywood tries to help in the first quarter of the Hawks' 103-99 victory.
Atlanta's Josh Childress, center, draws a foul from Washington's Caron Butler (3) in the opening quarter as the Wizards' Brendan Haywood tries to help in the first quarter of the Hawks' 103-99 victory. (By Gregory Smith -- Associated Press)

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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2007

ATLANTA, Oct. 22 -- Washington guard Gilbert Arenas sat at his locker before Monday night's game against the Atlanta Hawks and gently rubbed his left knee while talking about how good he was feeling.

"It was like having a five-pound weight taken off my leg," Arenas said before the Wizards' 103-99 loss to the Hawks at Philips Arena. "I'm moving way better than I was before. It was kind of stiff in there but now I'm loose."

The knee in question required surgery last April to repair torn meniscus and on Wednesday, a team doctor inserted a needle into it to remove excess fluid.

Arenas rested Thursday, Friday and Saturday then returned to practice on Sunday, where he felt fresh and looked explosive, according to Coach Eddie Jordan.

"He had a terrific practice," Jordan said. "He raised everybody's level up. It was one of those practices that got me excited. I was very excited and very emotional after practice because Gil brought us all up, no doubt about it."

That energy carried over to Monday night, when Arenas turned in his best performance of the preseason while playing a preseason-high 29 minutes. He made three of his first four shots, including a three-pointer, and scored 12 of his 19 points in the first quarter as the Wizards jumped out to a 28-20 lead.

Most of the 11 shots Arenas missed were either open jumpers or attempts near the rim, that is, the type of shots he will expect to make when the regular season gets rolling and he establishes a rhythm.

Arenas also displayed the explosiveness and body control that made him nearly unstoppable last season when he averaged 28.4 points per game, third most in the NBA.

With the clock winding down at the end of the half, Arenas was isolated at the top of the key against former Wizard Tyronn Lue. Arenas dribbled the ball back and forth between his legs twice, then pushed off his left leg and exploded past Lue before leaping and releasing a soft floater over 6-foot-9 Marvin Williams.

The ball banked off the backboard and dropped through the basket for two points. The shot was reminiscent of many Arenas made last season, including a game-winning layup over Chris Wilcox as time expired in Seattle on March 21.

The condition of Arenas's knee will be one of the central issues facing the team this season. Barring injury, the team that played the Hawks Monday night will be the same one that opens the regular season next Wednesday in Indianapolis against the Pacers.

The Wizards released guard Donell Taylor and forward-center Tony Massenburg on Saturday, reducing the roster to 14, and will continue to carry center Etan Thomas, who is out indefinitely after undergoing open-heart surgery on Oct. 11.


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