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Silence Is Golden
As a current player not playing in this series told me today, the Wizards aren't better because Arenas is out -- they're better because they get more aggressive when he's out. In other words, there's nobody for them to defer to, and they always defer to Arenas when he's on the floor. "He's best," the veteran player said, "when he's got the ball in his hands."
All season long it's been an inescapable topic of discussion among opposing coaches and players when they faced the Wizards.
Are they better with Gilbert Arenas or without him?
No question, the ball moves better without Arenas. The Wizards themselves move better when he's not out there. The veteran player I talked to said that's only in the short term, because Arenas has been in and out of the lineup. Even Cleveland's Daniel Gibson said afterward: "When Gil is not on the floor, they get a lot of movement. But Gil's also a tough cover for anybody in the league. Yes, they're different with him and without him. But both are difficult."
Well, without him in Game 5, Antonio Daniels, another doer who doesn't care for talking, committed one turnover in 39 minutes and hit 5 of 9 shots. Butler, who scored a playoff career-high 32 points, often took the ball at the top of the circle and either made a jumper, drove or found a teammate for a decent shot, or the pass that led to the assist pass.
Butler, who knows the difference between gamesmanship and idle trash-talking, has been struggling himself physically, though he won't talk about it publicly. "He made some solid decisions," Jordan said of Butler's play. "He's strong enough and skilled enough to beat good defense. And he's smart enough and veteran enough to know when to make a play for somebody else."
Jordan has been down this road before, tight-walking the talk about whether his team is better with Arenas or without him. And the coach has always, including tonight, said the right thing, that his team has learned how to survive without Arenas but would be better off with him healthy. "It's a delicate situation," Jordan said. "He's not the Gil we know and won't be until October. It's difficult. We have learned to absorb that, and learned to play without him."
Now, for the first time the Wizards know that Arenas won't play. There's no more "Will he or won't he" hanging over the season, or even over a single game. It's Butler and Jamison's team now, to lead, to inspire, to tame if necessary. And they've got two games to show that they learned a lesson.