ATLANTA — The Wizards in a few minutes will tip off against the Atlanta Hawks and are looking to carry over the same high level of play that they displayed in the season opener in Dallas.
The key for the Wizards, coach Flip Saunders says, is doing everything the way they did it against the Mavericks.
“That set the bar on how if you want to win on the road, that’s how you have to play,” Flip said. “You can’t turn the ball over, you have to play solid defense, you’ve got to try to control the tempo of the game, and if you can, take the other team out of their offense as much as possible, which is often easier said than done.”
It all will start with Gilbert Arenas, who is still receiving praise from his coach for the way he controlled the Dallas game and was effective both as a scorer, distributor and extension of Saunders on the floor.
“He’s doing good, he’s being aggressive with the ball. He had about as good a game as you can have in Dallas. He controlled the tempo of the game,” Saunders said of Arenas. “You know you controlled the game when you’re on the road and you can’t remember the crowd ever really getting into it aside from the [pre-game] introductions. So if you do that, you’re doing what you need to do to control the tempo.”
Saunders especially liked how Arenas was able to get his teammates involved while picking and choosing his own spots, and then knowing when to take over, and when to get his teammates going again. That, the coach says, is something that is hard to teach, but comes naturally for Arenas.
“Those are things that you have a feel,” Flip said. “He’s got a great feel of knowing when we’re in the bonus and he can be aggressive, going and trying to get to the free throw line and get a couple easy points. When maybe we haven’t scored a couple and we’re struggling to do something to be aggressive and create for himself or create for his team. He understands all that.”
Flip has worked with his share of strong point guards during his time in Minnesota and Detroit (Sam Cassell, Stephon Marbury, Terrell Brandon, Chauncey Billups), but he says Arenas is better than all of those players.
“He’s the most unique,” Saunders says. “I mean going back, I’ve had Stephon Marbury, Terrell Brandon, Chauncey Billups, and when you look at all those guys, Gil has the ability to bring almost all the strengths of those guys, and that’s what Gil is.
“None of those guys have his ability as far as scoring,” the coach added. “Marbury could score, but him being a scorer was his ability to get to the basket. Chauncey was more of a set-up guy who was not really a guy that’s going to break you down and push you up the floor, but [Arenas] has that. He has unbelievable speed up the floor, so he has the ability as far as the total package.”
We should see another display of the total package tonight. We saw what Arenas was able to do against an aging Jason Kidd on Tuesday, now we’ll see him matched up with fellow Arizona product Mike Bibby.
Arenas, Mike Miller, Caron Butler, Fabricio Oberto and Brendan Haywood will start for the Wizards, and Bibby, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Al Horford will start for the Hawks.