Thursday, April 3, 2008


"The guy marches to the beat of his own drummer."

That's what a team source said when asked about Gilbert Arenas' decision to return to the court last night after being cleared to play the day before...and saying he wouldn't.

There's really no other way to put it. Agent Zero is an enigma. And what that makes him incredibly frustrating to follow as a coach, a fan - hell, as a blogger - and yet it's also what makes him the face of the Wizards' franchise and what made the Verizon Center go absolutely bonkers for a second consecutive night on Wednesday.

Yeah, Washington lost to Milwaukee and sustained some potentially crippling injuries in the final sequence, and we'll get to that, but the big news is that Gilbert Arenas is back. He brings a certain swagger and an extra level of energy - much like Caron's impact when he returned last month - that elevates this team. And boy did Gil look good last night.

With 5:30 remaining in the first quarter, Arenas emerged from the locker room in typical Gilbert Arenas fashion. Nine seconds later he checked into the game and received a standing ovation and on the ensuing Wizards' possession, Gilbert scored on a reverse layup - his first bucket since November 16. He finished with 17 points in 20 minutes, including two free throws to tie the game at 109 with seconds remaining. But while he didn't have trouble getting into the offensive flow after his four and a half month layoff, he lacked the ability to move laterally on the defensive end and was a liability.

So with 16 seconds left, Eddie Jordan pulled Arenas for Antonio Daniels. The Wizards got the stop they needed and Antawn Jamison sacrificed his body, jumping into the front row to tip the ensuing loose ball down court to Daniels to ice the game. But Daniels didn't show the same hustle, allowing former D-Leaguer Ramon Sessions to snatch the ball from behind and call timeout with 1.1 seconds left. In a stunning, and yet all to fitting, finale, Sessions got the final shot, letting a 19-footer fly just two-tenths of a second before the final buzzer. It swished through the net and Gilbert's return was spoiled.

The final sequence was just one of numerous defensive break-downs on the night for a team that seems to have lost their edge on that end of the floor after playing so well in consecutive games after Butler's return. Washington shot 56 percent from the field but allowed the Bucks to shoot 55 percent and despite leading for nearly the entire game, the Wizards never could put the game out of reach. The Wiz were out-rebounded by Milwaukee 41-34, with Andrew Bogut (20 points, 10 boards) and Charlie Villanueva (24 points, 12 boards) posting double-doubles.

With a win and Indiana's loss to Boston, the Wizards had an opportunity to lock up a playoff berth and maintain a half-game lead over Toronto and Philadelphia for the fifth spot. Instead they dropped into a three-way tie and must regroup before tomorrow night's game against the listless Miami Heat. What's worse, Jamison (sprained right shoulder) and DeShawn Stevenson (sprained ankle) both suffered injuries in the waning seconds and could miss time. Had the Wizards stepped up and made one or two more stops down the stretch, they wouldn't be in this situation.

It'll be interesting to see how Jordan decides to use Gilbert down the stretch. He came off the bench last night and I really like him in that role. Even though it would essentially turn opponents' offensive possessions into 5-on-3 power plays, being able to bring in a one-two combo of Gil and Nick Young off the bench could be a lightning in a bottle for the Wiz. If the Hibachi continues to come off the bench in the next two weeks, he will be able to gradually get back to game fitness and it'll be a much easier transition for him and the team. Remember, the Wizards' have been doing pretty well without him all season, and I think he realizes that and doesn't want to disrupt the chemistry these guys have developed.


  • Last night's loss wasn't bad enough to put a damper on DeShawn's 27th birthday bash at Collaborations. Dan Steinberg was there to take in all the 80's themed apparel - trust me, there was plenty - and MC Biz Markie's musical stylings. Note: Check out that boom box the Locksmith is carrying. And when was the last time you saw a cell phone as big as Gil's?
  • Earlier this week, Arenas told reporters that he would be willing to take a pay cut to keep the Wizards' current roster in tact. He has said all season that he plans to opt out of his contract and Jamison will also become a free agent this summer. "I want to see Antawn taken care of first and then I'll take the pay cut to keep the team intact," he said. It remains to be seen whether the erratic All-Star will stay true to his word on this, but the reality of the situation is that the he wants to remain in Washington (no other playoff teams have the salary to sign him for what the Wizards can offer) and he knows that Jamison is a key part of the core of this group. It's a kind and practical gesture from Arenas and one that I'd love to see come to fruition.
Tonight I'm headed to the Phone Booth to be a part of another Red-Out as the Caps try to get one step closer to the playoffs with a win against the Lightning. Should be fun.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!

-- The Tar Heel

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