No Rest For the Wizards

Gilbert Arenas scored 17 points against the Bucks on April 2, his first game back after missing 66.
Gilbert Arenas scored 17 points against the Bucks on April 2, his first game back after missing 66. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

For some teams, a clinched playoff berth often means an opportunity to rest starters in anticipation of a demanding postseason. But for the Washington Wizards, who secured a spot in the playoffs with a 109-95 victory over the Miami Heat on April 4, the final five games of the regular season instead will provide an opportunity for the injury-riddled squad to tinker with lineups in hopes of allowing players to jell -- especially with superstar guard Gilbert Arenas -- before the start of the playoffs.

With Arenas back in the rotation after missing 66 games this season with a left knee injury, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said yesterday he hopes to use Arenas with several combinations of players to facilitate a high level of comfort for the start of the playoffs.

"We want to get our top eight guys in sync, and if there is a top nine, our top nine guys to play well together," Jordan said. "I want Gil to play with Darius [Songaila], I want different lineups [and] our top eight or nine rotation guys to really get a part of it and get that chemistry down. That's what we're looking at" down the stretch.

The Wizards, who are two games behind the fourth-place Cleveland Cavaliers in the standings, will face four playoff teams in their final five games, and despite speculation that those teams may rest their starters against Washington, Jordan said that the team's approach to those games will not change.

"No matter who is not playing we still want to go in with our rotation guys," Jordan said. "If we had eight guys, nine guys all year and we had a good flow, we had a good thing going, maybe I don't play those guys. But now that Gil's in the mix we need to get him in the mix and playing with everybody, all different types of combinations."

Arenas returned to the court on April 2 against Milwaukee, and looked comfortable from the start, hitting a layup after just nine seconds on the court and finishing with 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting in 20 minutes. Arenas scored 13 points against Miami before sitting out Saturday's win over Chicago to rest his surgically repaired knee.

Jordan said Arenas must get his legs back and work to be solid defensively, but that he should transition easily back into the offense.

"Certainly, he is not going to just be a guy that is going to stand on the perimeter and make passes like maybe he thought he would or he said he would," Jordan said. "There's no holding back, Gil is who he is. . . . He's ready to go, and he's going to be an aggressive scorer for us, he's going to be a guy who pushes the tempo for us."

Jordan said he anticipates Arenas will come off the bench tomorrow and that his minutes will be "extended little by little" as he continues to recover.

Arenas's addition and the return of all-star forward Antawn Jamison, who missed the past two games with a sprained right shoulder but participated fully in practice yesterday, give Jordan a full arsenal of players at his disposal, something that has been a rarity during a season in which "the big three" of Jamison, Arenas and all-star Caron Butler have missed a combined 90 games and played only nine games together.

After practice, Jamison said he couldn't remember the last time the three had practiced together but said he thinks the team is coming together at the right time.

"You couldn't write a better scenario as far as having the injuries and going through the things we went through and being able to say, 'You know what, we're healthy, we got five games to go, and now we can really do something down the stretch as well,' " Jamison said.

Jamison, who said he felt no ill effects in his shoulder after yesterday's workout, also agreed with Jordan, saying that not resting players in the final games will be integral in getting the team ready for the playoffs.

"I think it's good that we play these last few games together and that the games mean something," Jamison said. "It is kind of different; normally you would be resting. But we had our fair share of rest this year so it's time for guys to get out there and compete at a high level and really try to get things down as far as what we want to do offensively and defensively."

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