Gauging the Arenas Factor
Friday, April 11, 2008
Three times in the second quarter of the Washington Wizards' 109-95 win over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, Gilbert Arenas stole the ball and was out front all alone on a fast break, and in none of those instances did he attempt to explode toward the basket.
He calmly scooped in a layup the first trip. The next two times, Arenas slowed down to make behind-the-back passes to Caron Butler and Andray Blatche, respectively, for assists.
Arenas was aggressive as he drove the lane and absorbed contact on two drives to the basket in the first half, but he couldn't get a shot from beyond four feet to fall until he hit a three-pointer early in the fourth quarter. He scored 13 points in his third game back from left knee surgery, making 5 of 14 shots, some of which were taken off only his right leg.
Arenas hasn't spoken to reporters since he made his ballyhooed return last week, but his game thus far is saying that the flashy player who popularized "Hibachi!" is being replaced by a giddy reserve not looking to do much more than fit in. "He's got to get his conditioning, get his legs under him," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We knew it was going to be a process. We have a few more games to get it right and he still won't get it right. He won't be Gil until next October."
In his first three games, he is averaging 14.3 points and 4.3 assists on 42.4 percent shooting in just less than 22 minutes. But Arenas Light might be all that the Wizards need for the final four games of the regular season and the playoffs. "He is still Gil," Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. "He is still aggressive. He passed the ball more. The ball moved around a little more. I think that will make them one hell of a team."
Forward Antawn Jamison likened Arenas's return to making a trade for a superstar 70 games into the season. Celtics guard Ray Allen talked about the Wizards' "swagger" with Arenas, albeit scaled back, in the lineup. The Wizards' all-star trio of Arenas, Jamison and Butler has played together only 10 games this season.
"Having Gilbert back helps out a ton. We're a team rejuvenated," forward Caron Butler said. "We're feeling really good about ourselves. We're just building momentum. We're getting back acquainted with one another on the court, and Gilbert is looking great. All the other guys are meshing well and we're looking to make a push at this thing with our guys back healthy. We was the best team in the Eastern Conference last year without injuries and we never got a chance to see this group together whole."
With so many players nursing injuries and working their way back during the final stretch, the Wizards cannot be described as whole, but Jordan said they are closer than they have been since late February of last season.
Point guard Antonio Daniels, who missed four weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament earlier this season, marveled at how Arenas has come back after having surgery on his left knee less than six months ago, especially when Arenas also had part of his knee repaired with microfracture surgery. He said establishing chemistry with Arenas before the playoffs shouldn't be a problem. "Gil knows me, I know DeShawn [Stevenson], DeShawn knows Caron, Caron knows Antawn, Antawn knows Brendan [Haywood], so it kind of goes down the line," Daniels said.
"We've been through some battles together, some tough games together. I don't think the hard part will be getting Gil back with the rest of us. The difficult part may be Gil individually getting over the hump mentally more than physically."
Jordan hasn't decided whether to rest Arenas tonight against Detroit or tomorrow against Philadelphia. He said he plans on Arenas coming off the bench for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
"It's exciting right now," Jordan said. "Gil's the difference. We've been satisfied to a degree with how we've played without Gil and gotten through without Caron and gotten through without some other people. But it's very exciting to have him out there and it makes us an exciting, dangerous team."