Washington Wizards blow out New Jersey Nets, 123-104, in Wizards' home opener
The five Washington Wizards who started the home opener against New Jersey on Saturday were completely different than the group that started last season against the Nets. It was unique situation, aided by some unfortunate injuries to all-star forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. But considering the woeful results last season, giving the home fans something new to start the season probably wasn't necessarily a bad idea.
With two familiar names -- Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood -- back healthy and Mike Miller, Randy Foye and Fabricio Oberto making their home debuts, the Wizards followed up the elaborate, introductory pyrotechnics with an equally explosive performance.
Last season, the Nets embarrassed the Wizards in their home opener -- with fans booing them off the floor. On Saturday, the Wizards dominated a much different Nets team, 123-104, with Arenas and his band of newcomers providing several highlights and hints that this season might be more aesthetically pleasing.
"As I told our guys, we have to go out and show our fans how we play -- playing hard, playing smart and efficient. I told them if we do that we will look good," Coach Flip Saunders said after winning his home debut. "We went out and did that."
Following a game that played out like a combination of a welcome party and a family reunion, the remaining fans from a sellout crowd of 20,173 serenaded the team with a standing ovation as the players left the court.
Arenas had a season-high 32 points and reserve forward Andray Blatche set a career high with 30 points as the Wizards (2-1) pulled out a lopsided win, with Jamison and Butler playing the roles as cheerleaders in suits. The Wizards shot 61.5 percent from the floor, their best field goal shooting night in seven years. They also made 9 of 14 from beyond the three-point line.
"We came and gave great energy," said Arenas, who only needed 29 minutes to annihilate the Nets. "We're proud of ourselves."
Arenas made only two cameo appearances last season, which basically qualified as a dress rehearsal on his surgically repaired left knee. But he quickly reminded an anxious crowd that he is still capable of carrying a team and leading it back into playoff contention with an efficient and controlled performance. Arenas mixed the stupefying plays, such as when he split two defenders and buried a 38-foot heave, with the textbook, like when hit Oberto with a pretty bounce pass for an open layup.
It was the first time Arenas had scored at least 30 points in a game since Nov. 14, 2007 at Indiana. He didn't even play in the fourth quarter, watching with a pack of ice on his left knee. "It was good," Arenas said. "No matter if you win by one of you win by 19. in this league, a win is a win."
Blatche is in his fifth season in Washington, but in many ways, he qualifies as a new player, given his number change and commitment to be more than the occasional tease. Blatche shot 15 of 18 from the floor and didn't attempt any free throws, as he pulled out his entire offensive arsenal. He hit turnaround jumpers and did a nifty up-and-under move in the low post he learned from assistant coach Sam Cassell. Asked about Blatche's new moves, Saunders said, "He hadn't seen some of them either."
Said Blatche with a laugh: "Flip need to cool out. I can honestly say those are the same moves that I've been doing my whole career. I just feel more comfortable. I have a lot more confidence. I feel as if the game has slowed down for me."
With about eight minutes left in the game, DeShawn Stevenson saw Blatche open near the basket and whipped a bounce pass to him. Blatche grabbed the ball and elevated for a two-handed dunk that put the Wizards ahead 109-84. Jamison, a harsh critic of Blatche in the past, gave him a standing ovation after he buried a jumper a few minutes later.
With Butler unable to play after bruising his left knee the night before in Atlanta, Foye started at shooting guard, with Miller moving up to small forward. Arenas compared sharing the back court with Foye to his days playing with Larry Hughes. Foye and Arenas shared ball handling responsibilities and combined to hand out 15 assists. Foye twice delivered perfect lob passes to reserve center JaVale McGee for electrifying jams. Miller added nine points and 11 rebounds. Haywood added 10 points and seven rebounds and Stevenson had 10 points off the bench.
"It felt good being home. We ain't been home in a minute," said Stevenson, the only opening day starter from last season to play on Saturday. "That was a bad night, but you can't think about the past. That was a real bad year last year. It's a different story this year. We got weapons. We're a real good team. We got our star player back, Gilbert. You see the way we're playing."