Wizards struggle at the point

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 12, 2009

Shirtless, slouching and sulking, Gilbert Arenas was fidgeting with his cellphone Tuesday night when personal trainer Tim Grover, in Miami to check on him, leaned over his locker room stall. Grover spoke to Arenas for a few minutes, with Arenas repeatedly nodding his head. Arenas's rehabilitation from a left knee injury that cost him most of the last two seasons had not ended when he left Grover's training facility in Chicago last summer, and Arenas was already learning an early-season lesson.

A strained left calf nearly sidelined him before he decided about 15 minutes before the game to play against the Miami Heat. Then, after his backup Randy Foye sprained his right ankle in the first half, Arenas was forced to play a season-high 42 minutes. And for the second game in a row, Arenas succumbed to fatigue -- both mental and physical -- as he committed 10 of his career-high 12 turnovers in the second half of the Wizards' 90-76 defeat.

The Wizards (2-6) have lost five games in a row, with five players already sidelined through the first eight games of the season. Antawn Jamison is expected to practice on Thursday and make his highly anticipated season debut on Saturday against Detroit. Mike Miller could also return, but the Wizards are still short-handed in the back court, with Javaris Crittenton (left ankle surgery) out at least another month, Mike James (broken left hand) out four to five weeks and now Foye is listed as day-to-day after X-rays on his ankle were negative.

"I've never been in a situation where I've lost three point guards. And the one that was hurt the most coming into the season is the healthiest of them all," Coach Flip Saunders said with a laugh.

The Wizards signed veteran point guard Earl Boykins to a non-guaranteed contract on Wednesday. They created a roster spot by waiving forward Paul Davis. The 5-foot-5 Boykins averaged 9.4 points and 3.4 assists in 10 NBA seasons. He played at Vitrus Bologna in Italy last season.

Otherwise, the Wizards would have to rely on DeShawn Stevenson as a spot-duty point guard -- or put more pressure on Arenas, who said he started to feel some discomfort in his upper calf when he got home after the loss to Phoenix. He also is having trouble grappling with his responsibilities as primary ball-handler and decision-maker on offense.

Arenas committed seven of his franchise-record turnovers in the third quarter against Miami, when the Wizards went from leading by 11 points to trailing by three in less than eight minutes. "I've been having bad second halves," said Arenas, who has shot 4 for 20 with 12 turnovers in the second halves of his past two games against Phoenix and Miami. "We keep going to that third quarter where we can't score, we can't shoot, can't pass, can't catch, we can't think. It's frustrating because we feel we're better than the teams we've been losing to."

Arenas leads the team with 5.9 assists, but he also leads the league with 4.8 turnovers per game. "We need a whole starting five to pass the ball. Just can't have two people getting assists on this team," he said. "That's the way it's been going the last five games."

Arenas didn't mention any names, but Caron Butler has just four assists in seven games this season after averaging more than four assists per game in each of the past two seasons. Butler also has 19 turnovers this season, including four against Miami, where he had his third game with zero assists. Butler did not speak to reporters after the game.

The Wizards had a season-high 22 turnovers in Miami, which led to 27 points for the Heat. It also continues a troubling trend in which they had more turnovers than assists for the fourth time in five games. The team had 15 assists and 12 turnovers in a loss to Cleveland.

"It's the same thing. When things get bad, we as individuals try to do too much instead of trying to get everybody involved," Saunders said. "We got tired. Gil hadn't worked out in two days, and I'd say our schedule has caught up to us a little bit."

The Wizards didn't practice on Wednesday, with Saunders giving his players some time to rest and heal after a grueling stretch. All five starters on Tuesday played at least 39 minutes, with Butler playing a season-high 45.

"I'm frustrated as hell right now," Stevenson said. "We're waiting for 'Tawn to get back and everybody to get back, but if we keep playing the way we're playing, it's still not going to work. We got to fine tune. Two and six. We're frustrated as hell."

After winning one of their first 11 games last season, the Wizards certainly didn't expect to have the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference, injuries and fatigue, rough schedule or otherwise.

"Do I think we could've squeaked out a couple more wins? Yeah. But we can't worry about the games we've played. We can only worry about the ones we have left," Saunders said. "We've got to build off the good things we did, and fix our mistakes. We know what we're doing to lose things.

"Now we just need to keep attacking it."

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