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Wizards Back Arenas's Plan for Return

While Nick Young and the Wizards stumbled to a 16-56 record, Gilbert Arenas was in a suit, or not on the bench at all. The team echoed the plan Arenas laid out on Monday regarding a return.
While Nick Young and the Wizards stumbled to a 16-56 record, Gilbert Arenas was in a suit, or not on the bench at all. The team echoed the plan Arenas laid out on Monday regarding a return. (By Ned Dishman -- Nbae/getty Images)
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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

After watching Gilbert Arenas go through a full practice yesterday at Verizon Center, Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott laid out the team's plan to ease the three-time all-star back into game action.

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Arenas, who has not played this season and appeared in only 13 regular season games last season, is expected to make his season debut Saturday night when the Wizards host the Detroit Pistons -- as long as everything goes well during shoot-arounds and practices leading up to the game.

Tapscott ruled out any chance that the famously hard-to-predict Arenas will make a surprise return tonight when the Wizards (16-56) host the Charlotte Bobcats. Tapscott also said that Arenas will play only one game each in the team's final two back-to-back sets.

"The plan was for him to play Saturday and we're still working toward that end," Tapscott said. "As we've got it planned out right now, he's going to play in selected games and no back-to-backs as we work through the process of making sure that he comes back in such a way that is beneficial to his health and our team development. So, we're going to work through the process game by game and step by step. . . . We want to be very disciplined about this and we intend to be."

Arenas, who has been practicing off and on since Feb. 16, walked past a swarm of reporters after practice without speaking and has not expanded on comments he made Monday morning when he laid out a plan that was remarkably similar to the one Tapscott detailed yesterday.

Last season, Arenas surprised his coach, Eddie Jordan, by returning after a long absence as a reserve against Milwaukee on April 2. Arenas pulled off a similar move when he announced, through the media, that he was "shutting it down" for the remainder of the season right before the team prepared to face Cleveland in Game 5 of a first-round playoff series last spring.

Arenas has not made recent road trips and also hasn't sat on the bench for home games, including Monday's loss to Chicago, when the Wizards put up a spirited effort despite having only eight healthy players for most of the game.

Arenas has looked sharp in practice, according to teammates and coaches, and has reported no pain or discomfort in a left knee that has undergone three surgical procedures since April 2007.

"The knee feels fine, it's strong," Arenas said Monday. "The thing I have to get back is my timing, my game conditioning and just being back out there at game speed. That's what I need to work on and that's why I want to be smart about what games I play in."

Arenas indicated Monday that he'd like to play in each of the team's four remaining home games and two road games, at Cleveland on April 8 and at Boston in the season finale on April 15.

"He looked real good, real sharp and I can't wait to see him out there live and see the response from fans and everyone else," said forward Caron Butler, who has missed the last six games with tightness in his left hamstring but practiced yesterday and will be a game-time decision tonight. "When he gets out there, I know he's going to put on a hell of a show."

Antawn Jamison, who has been an anchor all season long for a team that has seen one key player after another go down to injury, said Arenas has looked "normal" in practice.

"One thing about him, he makes the game so much easier," Jamison said. "In practice, he's looking to push the ball. All you have to do is run the floor, cut and move and he's looking for you and just demands so much attention. It will be good to have him out there healthy, helping a lot of guys out because right now, we could take some good news."

Yesterday's practice was also special because it was the first time that Brendan Haywood went through a full practice since undergoing surgery on his right wrist in October. Both Haywood and Tapscott have said that the veteran center needs several practices before a decision can be made on whether and when he will play this season.

"The only prudent thing to do is to give him a chance to practice so that when he steps into game, he's prepared for it," Tapscott said.

Wizards Notes: Though he practiced yesterday, Butler cautioned that the hamstring has continued to bother him the day after workouts so his status for tonight's game and others will be determined by how the muscle reacts on a daily basis. "We'll see if I wake up on the right side of the bed [today] and go from there," Butler said. . . .

The Bobcats (31-39) are in a scramble to make their first playoff appearance since entering the league as an expansion team in 2004. Entering last night's games, they trailed Chicago by 1 1/2 games for the eighth and final playoff spot. . . .

The Wizards are 0-3 against Charlotte this season and 0-14 against the Southeast Division with one game remaining in divisional play after tonight (April 4 against Miami). No team in NBA history has gone winless against teams in its own division.

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