Arenas's return can't prevent another defeat

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 6, 2010

NEW YORK - There was a noticeable difference in the Washington Wizards' locker room at Madison Square Garden before they played the New York Knicks on Friday. A familiar tradition in past seasons was spotted for the first time in exactly 10 months as Gilbert Arenas sat with a pair of red headphones on his head, music blaring as he dribbled a basketball between his legs.

Arenas was set to come back for the first time since his 50-game suspension for bringing guns into Verizon Center's locker room - and for the first time in his professional career wearing a jersey other than No. 0. Arenas was understandably rusty early after being out of action for nearly three weeks with a mild groin strain and also a strained tendon in his right ankle. But after finally settling down, Arenas scored 14 of his 18 points in the fourth period, and even dived into the second row trying to recover a loose ball.

But Arenas's return - and a game-high 22 points from Andray Blatche - couldn't offset a balanced attack from the opposition, with reserve Toney Douglas leading five Knicks players in double figures with 19 points as the Wizards were routed, 112-91.

There had been some concern about whether the game would be played at Madison Square Garden after a game against Orlando on Tuesday was postponed because of debris falling on the court. The Wizards didn't know that Arenas would be available to play until he practiced without any soreness on Friday morning.

Arenas came off the bench, with Coach Flip Saunders not wanting to disrupt the rotation he had settled upon in the first week. He missed four of his first five shots, but came back to lead a rally in the final period. But after his final basket, the Knicks closed the game on a 24-7 run.

The Wizards trailed 86-73 after Douglas made a layup, but Arenas helped lead the Wizards back, as he went on one of his customary one-man scoring binges. He went on a personal 9-2 run, connecting on back-to-back three-pointers and dashing to the basket to convert a three-point play that brought the Wizards within 88-82. He later hit another three-pointer and stepped back to bury a fallaway jumper to bring the Wizards within six, but the Knicks scored the next six points, taking a 100-88 lead when Danilo Gallinari (16 points) made a three-pointer.

Arenas hadn't played since scoring 19 points with 14 assists in a win over Philadelphia on Jan. 5. He was suspended indefinitely the next day after making light of his gun incident by mockingly turning his fingers into guns and shooting his teammates in the huddle. The months that followed saw him receive a felony gun charge and 30 days in a halfway house. He came back to play three games in the preseason, but was saddled with more injuries, fake or otherwise, afterward.

With 3 minutes 19 seconds left in the first period, Saunders called on Arenas to enter the game. He took the court a few seconds later when play was stopped after John Wall collected an offensive foul when he barreled over Amare Stoudemire.

Blatche was unstoppable early, as he scored the first six points for the Wizards and had 16 points in the first quarter. Blatche had his way with the Knicks' front line, as he hit two long jumpers to open the game, then worked his way inside for finger rolls and layups. He made his first seven field goal attempts before the Knicks decided to start pressuring him. He would later miss his next seven shots and lost his cool in the second period.

JaVale McGee swooped in for an offensive rebound putback, but Blatche got tangled with Knicks reserve Ronny Turiaf. As they headed back to the other end of the court, Blatche shoved Turiaf in the back, picking up a technical foul.

Raymond Felton scored the next six points, as he made the technical foul shot, a three-pointer, then cruised past Wall for a layup that gave the Knicks a 58-45 lead.

The Wizards scored the final four points of the half, with a Kirk Hinrich jumper and two Wall free throws.

Wall had 13 points and seven assists, but he had an overall rough outing coming off a breathtaking performance against Philadelphia three nights before, when he became the first player to ever have a game with at least 29 points, 13 assists and 9 steals.

Felton, whom the Knicks signed as a free agent last summer, attacked Wall early on, as he hit a three-pointer, then made back-to-back layups in the first period.

After committing a season-high eight turnovers against the 76ers, Wall again struggled with protecting ball, as he had four turnovers in the first half. Felton stole the ball from him early, and he also was called for palming the ball when he attempted to drive inside.

Wall finished with nine turnovers overall, with some coming from being too unselfish. He slashed to the basket and had what appeared to be a layup but instead dropped the ball behind him to Yi Jianlian, who fumbled the pass.

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