Wizards' Arenas to Start, Play Limited Minutes Against Pistons

Fans are expecting to see Gilbert Arenas, right, joining Juan Dixon and the rest of the Wizards in uniform for tonight's game against the Pistons.
Fans are expecting to see Gilbert Arenas, right, joining Juan Dixon and the rest of the Wizards in uniform for tonight's game against the Pistons. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 28, 2009

Officially, Gilbert Arenas will be a game-time decision for tonight's contest against the Detroit Pistons at Verizon Center. But as long as all goes well during the morning shoot-around, the three-time all-star will make his long-awaited debut and will probably do so in a familiar role: as a member of the starting lineup.

"I would certainly consider him a starter," interim coach Ed Tapscott said. "Just out of respect for his status as one of the best players in the league."

Tapscott did not specify how many minutes Arenas will play but talked about taking an "intelligent" approach that will allow Arenas, who has been practicing off and on since Feb. 16, time to get his legs and rhythm back without risking another setback.

Arenas has undergone three surgical procedures on his left knee since injuring it in April 2007 but said he has steadily regained strength and flexibility in the knee since visiting with a specialist in Miami in late January.

He recently declared the knee to be at "full strength."

"I don't think we're going to go a full 36 or 38 minutes," Tapscott said. "That just would not be realistic or prudent on our part. I'm sure 24, 28 would be more like it."

Of course, it wouldn't be a normal day in Wizards-land without another injury -- starting guard Mike James injured his right pinkie during practice and was wearing a brace afterward. James was to undergo an MRI exam yesterday afternoon, but he theorized that he might have broken the finger.

Forward Caron Butler, who has missed the past seven games with tightness in his left hamstring, practiced and will test the leg at shoot-around this morning. He's officially a game-time decision, as are forward-center Darius Songaila (pinched nerve in neck) and guard Juan Dixon (strained Achilles').

The plan Tapscott has talked about for Arenas calls for him to play in each of four remaining home games and possibly two road games: at Cleveland on April 8 and at Boston on April 15.

Arenas will not play tomorrow night at Indiana or next Wednesday at Memphis because the team does not want him playing back-to-back games.

Asked what Wizards fans should expect to see from Arenas tonight, forward Antawn Jamison was very optimistic.

"I don't think he's going to be playing that many minutes, but I think you're going to see what you're accustomed to seeing, that quickness," Jamison said. "And one thing I've always said about Gil is that no matter how much time he has off, that jump shot is just pure. I mean, it's like riding a bike almost. The most important thing is seeing a healthy Gilbert, something we haven't seen in a while. But the last couple of practices, I mean, he's like normal. Talking trash -- that's never been a problem for him -- he's just looking good."

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