By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 6, 2010; 12:45 AM
DALLAS - In a quiet moment, away from all of the noise and bright lights that would follow in a few hours, No. 1 overall pick John Wall was seated next to Washington Wizards teammate Gilbert Arenas inside American Airlines Center when he asked the nine-year veteran what he should expect in his professional, preseason debut.
"I told him at the end of the day, it's just basketball," Arenas said after the Wizards defeated the Dallas Mavericks, 97-94. "Don't get caught up in the hype of being number one. You got to go out there and play."
On Wall's welcome to the NBA, the man formerly known as Agent Zero was welcomed back. Wall had 21 points and nine assists in 37 minutes and Arenas added 12 points. Lester Hudson hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 2.5 seconds remaining.
Afterward, the enigmatic Arenas offered a puzzling explanation of his new role with the Wizards. "I'm out there to hit open shots. Teach John the ins-and-outs of the game and eventually go on and move on. And I'm on my way," he said, hinting that he could be moved before his contract expires in 2014. "This is the NBA, there are few players that stay in the same city. Right now, the city is John's. I'm not here to fight anybody. I'm here to just play alongside of him. He's Batman and I'm Robin. I'm moving aside so he can become a star."
Arenas hadn't played in an NBA game since January and might have been uncertain about the reception he would receive on the road following his 50-game suspension last season for bringing guns to the Verizon Center locker room.
But shortly before pregame introductions, Arenas was dribbling near half court when Dallas Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd walked up to embrace him. Shortly thereafter, Jason Terry wrapped his arms around Arenas, followed by former Wizards teammates DeShawn Stevenson, Brendan Haywood and finally Caron Butler, with Haywood needling Arenas for his unkempt beard. Arenas couldn't help but smile.
But asked after the game about what his emotions were, Arenas said, "I lost all feeling a long time ago."
The dominant question after the Wizards won the NBA draft lottery was whether Arenas, the former face of the franchise, would be able to play with Wall, the new face of the franchise. But Coach Flip Saunders decided to complicate the equation when he made the somewhat surprising decision to start the newly acquired Kirk Hinrich at small forward, leaving the Wizards with a three-point-guard set to pair with holdovers Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee.
Saunders wanted to try out the trio during training camp, but said that every time the urge hit him, an injury always seemed to prevent it from happening. "Whether it's Gilbert, he sprains an ankle, or Kirk hurt his shoulder," Saunders said. "Since they are all ready to go, I said let's do it from the beginning and let them play together a little bit."
The move looked questionable early on when the Mavericks quickly worked the ball inside to Butler, who backed down Arenas and buried a turnaround jumper over him. But while the Mavericks had a height advantage with Butler and Shawn Marion, the Wizards countered with speed and tenacity, and appeared in control in the second quarter when Arenas found Hinrich for a three-pointer that gave them a 53-36 lead.
Wall admitted he was "nervous and anxious" before the game and showed his uneasiness on his first shot attempt, an air ball that drifted wide left.
"The first one is always nerves," Wall said after the game. "It's kind of like summer league: My first one was a hard brick like I could've broke the backboard."
Saunders predicted before the game that Wall would "do three or four spectacular things" in his debut and Wall delivered. He amazed the crowd early when he chased down Kidd on what appeared to be an easy breakaway layup. Wall was called for goaltending, but he rapidly covered a lot of ground.
Wall later intercepted an Ian Mahinmi pass intended for Kidd and zipped down the court to make a left-handed layup. But his best play was actually a pass: a lob from beyond the three-point line to JaVale McGee (13 points, 7 rebounds and 6 blocks) that McGee caught and dunked with two hands over Brian Cardinal.
"That was the hypest play for me," Wall said of the alley-oop to McGee. "The main thing was getting the jitters out of the way and having chemistry down pat with my teammates."
Still sporting a fresh cut above his eye after taking an elbow from Blatche (22 points, five rebounds) the day before in practice, Wall didn't have any trouble setting up his teammates and initiating the offense. With his jersey soaked in sweat, Wall finally took a seat with 5 minutes 14 remaining.
Early in the third period, Hinrich stole the ball from Butler, setting up Wall on the other end, where he was fouled.
As Wall stepped to the foul line, Arenas and Hinrich shared a laugh. Arenas was back to smiling on the court, and Wall is pleased to share the floor with him.
"He's a great guy; I can't control what happened last year," Wall said. "Having a guy like Gilbert that can make shots and also get to the basket with the same ability, helps you out and takes a little pressure off. You never can judge somebody off something that happens."