Wizards' Arenas Is Ready to Practice

"I just need to go through these practices and get my rhythm back," said Gilbert Arenas, with Nick Young, left. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas will take another important step in his attempt to return from a left knee injury when he participates in his first full practice today, but how his surgically repaired knee responds to the workout will be only one factor in determining when the three-time all-star will return to game action.

"It's more mental," said Arenas, who has not played since undergoing surgery on Nov. 21 to repair the left medial meniscus and a non-weight bearing bone on the side of the knee. "I'm actually scared to play right now. I think that's where we're at right now so I'm looking at it game by game. I think I'm scared to go out there right now. I just need to go through these practices and get my rhythm back. I'm still going to try and take it slow."

After finishing with 27 points and eight assists in a win at Minnesota on Nov. 16, Arenas complained of stiffness and soreness the following day and an MRI exam revealed a partial tear of the meniscus. He underwent surgery five days later.

Arenas originally tore the left lateral meniscus last April 4 in a game against Charlotte and underwent season-ending surgery the next day.

Over the summer, Arenas aggressively attacked the rehabilitation process with marathon shooting sessions, pick-up basketball games and an intense workout program that included sprints with a parachute strapped to his back for resistance. However, Arenas has admitted that he rushed back too quickly and did not listen to the advice of team medical personnel when they advised him to give the knee time to heal.

"I'm going to go in and do my rehab and take my time this time," Arenas said in November. "I'm going to listen to what they tell me."

Yesterday, Arenas said the knee feels strong and he has tested it with games of one-on-one with teammates Nick Young and DeShawn Stevenson. But the idea of playing at full speed in a game leaves him fearful.

"It's nerve-racking because I don't want to get hurt again," said Arenas, who plans on opting out of the final season of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. "Two injuries back-to-back kind of messes with a guy mentally. I took a long time. I rehabbed very well this time around and I am still rehabbing and I don't want another setback. I don't think I can mentally do it again. I'm just going to take it slow. I'm going to do my leg workouts [today] before practice and practice with the team. And then, every day, I'm just going to build up the confidence mentally."

The Wizards are 26-25 without Arenas this season and have won four of their past five games, including Sunday's impressive 101-84 home win over New Orleans.

The team is also playing without all-star forward Caron Butler, who has missed 12 straight games and 15 of the past 17 with a left hip injury. Butler will be reevaluated later this week.

Starting with Wednesday's game against Orlando, six of the Wizards' next seven games are at home but the schedule stiffens significantly at the end of the month. The Wizards, who are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, open a five-game road trip at Portland on March 25 and before that their schedule includes games against Cleveland and Detroit.

Entering last night's games, the Wizards were 2 1/2 games ahead of seventh-place Philadelphia and three games ahead of eighth-place New Jersey.

"Hopefully, I'm playing before we go west and when we go west," Arenas said. "I really don't know how long it's going to take. Right now, I can just do my part and start practicing now."

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