By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 21, 2008
CLEVELAND, April 20 -- Gilbert Arenas proved he is still dangerous, even while playing on a surgically repaired left knee, by scoring 24 points in the Wizards' 93-86 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday. Now he'll have to show that he can perform with a sprained right wrist as well.
Arenas, who is expected to play Monday night in Game 2 of the best-of-seven first-round series, injured the wrist when he fouled LeBron James with 21 seconds remaining in Game 1.
Before the Wizards practiced Sunday morning, Arenas took a couple of jump shots that missed everything. He started fidgeting with the wrist while calling team athletic trainer Eric Waters over to take a look.
Arenas did not practice on Sunday, after coming off the bench on Saturday to hit 8 of 16 shots in just under 28 minutes. He did not mention the wrist during his postgame news conference and did not speak to the media on Sunday.
If Arenas is limited in any way Monday night, the Wizards will face an even greater challenge as they attempt to even the series and steal home-court advantage from the Cavaliers, who have beaten Washington seven straight times in the playoffs.
The Wizards did plenty of things right in Game 1 and held a two-point lead with 4:38 to play but lost because they missed 11 straight shots late in the game.
They also couldn't stop James from scoring four points on drives to the basket late in the fourth quarter.
"We had the game pretty much where we wanted it, and then we let it get away from us," said Wizards all-star forward Caron Butler, who was held to 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting in just over 40 minutes. "If we just continue to come out with that same energy we had, we'll be okay. I don't think we're going to have another drought like we had. Play the same type of game, do a few things better, and we'll be fine."
Before practice Sunday, Coach Eddie Jordan danced around a question about starting Arenas on Monday.
"What time is it right now?" Jordan asked. "As far as right now, at this minute, he's still coming off the bench but it could change two or three times before game time."
Starting Arenas may help the Wizards get off to a better start in Game 2 -- Washington made just one of its first seven shots and managed 10 points in the first six minutes in Game 1 -- but other drastic changes may not be necessary.
The Wizards know they aren't going to shut down James, who finished with 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting Saturday and is averaging 32.5 points in 11 career playoff games against Washington, but they do feel that they can be better offensively.
DeShawn Stevenson, Darius Songaila and Roger Mason Jr. shot a combined 2-of-19 Saturday afternoon, and Butler learned that he has to adapt to the defensive strategy Cleveland Coach Mike Brown has employed on him.
For much of the game, slow-footed Wally Szczerbiak was assigned to Butler. But when Butler received the ball in one of his sweet spots -- such as on the wing where he likes to either take a jump shot or penetrate, or on the block where he likes to post up -- the Cavaliers often sent a second defender to force the ball out of his hands.
Striking the right mix of looking for his own offense and moving the basketball will be crucial for Butler as the series continues.
"It was a big adjustment because it was the first time back to live action," said Butler, who missed the final three games of the regular season with a bruised right knee. "And they were playing me a little different. They were redding me [running a second defender at him] on cuts and doubling on all of the [isolations] I get, so I just have to be a facilitator for the most part. But at the same time, I have to look for ways to assert myself into the offense and find my rhythm."
The other matchup the Wizards must exploit is Antawn Jamison against Ben Wallace. Jamison estimated that Wallace, who is not as quick laterally as he used to be and does not like to leave the paint defensively, was assigned to him about 70 percent of the time in Game 1. As a result, Jamison got just about any shot he wanted.
He finished with 24 points and a career-playoff-high 19 rebounds, but made 10 of 24 shots and only one of eight three-point attempts. Many of the shots were wide open.
"Of the 24 I took, maybe four or five of them were tough shots, but the rest of them were in the flow, shots I normally take," Jamison said. "On a couple of those threes I could've drove to the basket, so I have to be more patient with that. But those were good shots. I just need to make them."
Getting more efficient offensive production will be a major key for the Wizards, who won only 10 games during the regular season when they scored fewer than 100 points. Meantime, the Cavaliers won only nine games in regulation when they allowed at least 100 points.
James understands that the Wizards are capable of breaking out in Game 2.
"They are not going to continue to miss those open looks," James said.