By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 15, 2010; 12:36 AM
Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas finally made his return engagement to Verizon Center on Thursday night in a preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Considering the events of last season and the past two days, it wound up being rather anticlimactic.
To cheers from throughout the crowd of 9,263, Arenas entered the game with 7 minutes 5 seconds remaining in the first quarter but didn't have a chance to do much before a mild right groin strain sent him to the bench three minutes later. Arenas was held out the rest of the 96-88 loss for strictly precautionary reasons, team officials said, and finished with three steals, one assist and one rebound. He did not attempt a shot and missed two free throws.
When the Wizards announced the injury to media members seated at the scorer's table, a Bucks assistant jokingly asked if this one was for real, a reference to developments after Tuesday night's game against Atlanta when Arenas told reporters he contrived an injury so a teammate could start. That episode overshadowed the home debut of No. 1 overall pick John Wall, and resulted in an apology from Arenas and Coach Flip Saunders issuing an undisclosed fine on Wednesday.
"It's tough," Wall said of Arenas's early exit. "He's a talented player, and we're having a great time on the court. Every time we're on the court together, we're moving the ball and getting everybody involved. We're both leaders on the court, so it's always tough for him to go down with an injury."
Originally, Tuesday's game also was supposed to be the homecoming for Arenas after he missed the final 50 games last season because of a league-mandated suspension stemming from his bringing guns into the Verizon Center locker room. When it didn't happen, speculation began as to whether Arenas would play on Thursday and, if so, how the Wizards' fan base would greet him.
A supportive crowd greeted Arenas enthusiastically once he entered Thursday night's game with the Wizards trailing, 11-6. Arenas promptly got a steal and led a fast break that resulted in a layup by Andray Blatche. After missing both free throws, Arenas stole the ball again and dribbled deep into the lane before delivering a two-handed, over-the-shoulder pass to Wall, who made the basket while being fouled. Wall's bonus free throw gave Washington a 14-13 lead with 4:19 left. Arenas added his final steal and committed a foul before his night was done.
"He was good while he was there for the three minutes or whatever," Saunders said of Arenas, who had left the locker room before reporters were allowed inside.
"I know how it feels going through injury, and it's tough to see someone go back down," Blatche said of Arenas, whose injury status was not updated immediately after the game. "I'm praying for him and hoping it's nothing major, and I hope he gets over it as quick as possible."
For the rest of the Wizards, ball movement was an issue on Thursday. Blatche, for instance, shot three three-pointers and missed all of them. Washington had 19 assists and shot 43 percent for the game.
The youthful Wizards also had issues running the offense away from their bench, where Saunders was able to provide guidance within earshot. That became apparent in the second half, when they were outscored, 45-31.
"You can tell," said Wall, who had 15 points and 11 assists for his first preseason double-double. "Whenever we're going the way our coaches are at, we're doing a great job of executing, of getting everybody in the right position, moving the ball more. First half we had a lot of assists. Second half we went more one-on-one, not moving the ball, and it's a part of me being a leader. I put a lot of pressure on me."