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Wizards Learn the Value of Star Power

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By Mike Wise
Monday, February 4, 2008

In the wake of Kobe Bryant using Caron Butler and Nick Young as pylons yesterday, it's apparent Gilbert Arenas is needed back soon for more reasons than just winning basketball games. The Wizards, people, are in dire need of resuscitating their Q-rating.

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It wasn't just the ooohing and aaahing each time Kobe levitated around the rim. Or even the hundreds wearing gold jerseys with the purple No. 8 lettering, who often sounded louder than a blase Washington crowd during an unsightly 103-91 loss by the Wizards.

It was the whole notion of the visiting team and its once-malcontented star, both of which were in utter disarray this past summer, basically reclaiming the mantle of Marquee NBA Team again. And the Wizards, who used to be thought of as that up-and-coming, stop-and-pop squad touted as the Phoenix of the East, having to deal with it.

Butler and Antawn Jamison, who have been carrying this team for much of the past three months, iced their knees on the bench in the final minutes realizing the harsh truth:

They cannot win without injured Arenas forever, and they and their teammates aren't going to fill the building up without a showman like Gil the Thrill consistently in the near future. Make no mistake, the game sold out because of who was in town -- not who plays here.

Almost two hours before tip-off, the Wizards -- and most of the NBA -- were being upstaged by the Lakers' literal sprint back to prominence.

Gobs of national and international media descended on Washington yesterday to expressly cover a 10:30 a.m. news conference -- involving a player for the Lakers. The acquisition of Pau Gasol was big enough news in Madrid that several Spanish reporters made the trip as well.

Gasol did not play, having arrived moments before the game. But he was the topic of discussion from the beginning, and his lanky, 7-foot presence put the Lakers -- who haven't had a skilled player that large since Shaquille O'Neal -- in a very good mood.

After Phil Jackson gave his postgame spiel, the Lakers coach had a little fun with a Spanish reporter who wanted to ask about Gasol's potential impact.

"We expect Pau to lead us to a championship immediately," Jackson said, straight-faced. "We're going to win 25 in a row."

They won't, but really, who among their Western Conference counterparts is better and more equipped for a playoff grind at this moment? Phoenix? Maybe. San Antonio? Possibly, but only if the Spurs remain healthy. Dallas? We'll see.

Utah's Jerry Sloan lamented the other night how the Jazz had lost Derek Fisher to the Lakers, whom Fisher helped to three NBA championships during the Shaq-and-Kobe Era. Sloan then shook his head at how the Lakers managed to finagle Gasol out of Memphis for Kwame Brown and some extras.

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