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.
Thomas was released from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., over the weekend and is continuing to recover at his home in Maryland. Neither the team nor doctors have officially ruled Thomas out for the season but the Wizards are planning to play without the veteran, according to a league source familiar with the situation.
Thomas has three years and $20 million remaining on his contract but should he be declared out for the season for medical reasons, there is a provision in the collective bargaining agreement that would give the Wizards an exception worth around $3.7 million to sign a replacement.
However, the Wizards are unlikely to use the exception and probably will carry 13 players on the regular season roster because they are close to the luxury tax threshold ($67.8 million.) Teams that go over the threshold must pay a dollar-for-dollar tax and, following the season, that money is pooled and redistributed among the teams that stay under.
If the Wizards make one more cut to remain under the threshold, the man out will probably be second-year forward Mike Hall, who had played a team-low 17 preseason minutes going into Monday's game.
Jordan said he could handle going into the regular season with 13 players (including Thomas), which would be two fewer than the league maximum. Teams must set opening night rosters by Oct. 29.
"If that's the way it is, we'll have to adjust," Jordan said. "We'll have to be creative if two or three people can't practice on a given day, so we'll have situations in practice where we can still work on things we need to work on."
The Wizards had a chance to either win Monday's game or force overtime in the closing seconds but Roger Mason Jr. missed a three-pointer and rookie Dominic McGuire missed a short put-back attempt after grabbing the rebound following Mason's miss.
Atlanta's Marvin Williams put the game away by making two free throws with 7.2 seconds left.
Wizards Notes: Rookie Oleksiy Pecherov (thigh bruise) did not dress Monday night and is day-to-day. . . . The road trip continues Wednesday night at Detroit and the preseason concludes Friday night at Toronto.