Not so long ago, the Washington Wizards were effortlessly parting the NBA the way a proud cruise ship does the ocean.
Now they look more like the Titanic, taking on water rapidly and about to go under.
Star guard Gilbert Arenas, who was benched before the game for missing the team’s shootaround, sprained his left knee in the first quarter, and the Wizards lost to the lottery-bound Charlotte Bobcats for the second straight night 108-100.
The Wizards, who were booed off the court by many of the 15,292 at Verizon Center, now sit a full game behind the Miami Heat in the Southeast Division and must contend with an injury to an All-Star player for the second time in three games.
As if the season-ending broken hand Caron Butler suffered Sunday wasn’t enough, the Wizards (39-35) might have to play the rest of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs — which start in three weeks — without Arenas.
The severity of the injury will be known today after the team receives the results of Arenas’ MRI.
“The sooner we get him back the better we are as a team obviously,” said point guard Antonio Daniels, who finished with 18 points and a career-high 17 assists after starting in place of Arenas. “We dodged the injury bug last year, and now [Antawn Jamison] goes down; Caron goes down, comes back and then goes back down for the rest of the year; and now Gil. Hopefully Gil is just hurt and not injured because the sooner we get him back the better we are as a team.”
Arenas’ injury quickly made meaningless the furor that developed before the game when it was announced he would not start for the first time this season because he missed the team’s 5 p.m. shootaround.
Arenas suffered the injury after Gerald Wallace, who was attempting a layup, fell on Arenas’ knee, forcing it inward. Both Wallace and Arenas fell to the floor. Wallace quickly rose to his feet, but Arenas stayed down, grimacing. He was eventually helped to his feet and walked to the locker room with the assistance of trainer Eric Waters.
Arenas is the third player on the roster to go down with a sprained knee. Jamison suffered the same injury Jan. 30 and missed 12 games, eight of which the Wizards lost.
Second-year forward Andray Blatche sprained his left knee in a game against the Los Angeles Clippers last month. He hasn’t played since March 24.
Before last night, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said Blatche could be out “another 10 days.”
“This is the NBA, and things happen,” Jordan said. “Nothing is a given. We just want to play hard through all the injuries. We have to expect the unexpected. That’s why we prepare 15 guys to play.”
The Wizards might have won had Arenas made it through the game in good health because they got some unexpectedly good performances from his supporting cast.
Center Etan Thomas had 19 and 10 rebounds, eclipsing his season high of 17 points established the night before. Jamison led the Wizards with 25 points and 11 rebounds, DeShawn Stevenson finished with 14 and Jarvis Hayes, who started in place of Butler, had 13.