Tom Knott: Arenas is back, and so is hope

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A potentially strong team places its foot on the neck of a crippled opponent and does not let up until the last bit of resistance is snuffed out from its supine form.

This is what the Wizards did to the Nets in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood on Saturday night.

With Gilbert Arenas flashing his All-Star self and Andray Blatche finally delivering in a fashion that has been envisioned since he was drafted out of high school in 2005, the Wizards put to rest the issue of the Nets midway through the third quarter.

It all starts with Arenas, of course. It all starts with the player who shreds a defense with his dribble-penetration forays.

This is the Arenas the Wizards have been waiting on the past two seasons. This is the Arenas who is justifying the $111 million contract that he was awarded in the summer of 2008. This is the Arenas who makes all the pieces around seem so much more capable than they otherwise would be.

This is what it means to have a healthy franchise player. When all else fails around him, with the shot clock ticking down, the franchise player can manufacture a shot and make good on a shabby possession.

That 19-win team is now a distant memory, gone forever. The Wizards may not put together the kind of season they want, but they now can imagine all the wonderful possibilities.

That is what the presence of Arenas means to the team. It is not just about his impressive numbers, essential though they are. It also is about the emotional lift that only he can provide to the team.

That point was underlined with Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison relegated to street clothes on the bench. Butler and Jamison may be All-Stars, but they do not rip out the heart of an opponent in the manner of Arenas. They do not slice up a defense and live on the free throw line, as Arenas does.

It is difficult to draw any long-term conclusions from three games, except this: Arenas is back. Any concern about his ability to perform in back-to-back games was addressed with an efficient 32 points in 29 minutes against the Nets.

The Wizards are a deeper team now, too, capable of supplanting the points normally generated by Jamison and Butler. The Wizards are more multidimensional now because of the additions of Mike Miller and Randy Foye.

Miller has quickly dispelled the erroneous notion that he is mostly a spot-up shooter who drifts too often to the 3-point line. If anything, Miller has shown a reluctance to shoot the ball in the first three games.

That will change if he wants opponents to respect his drives to the basket and not peel off to defend the beneficiaries of his passes.

Miller also has shown he likes to rebound and is not afraid to pick up a floor burn, as he did in pursuit of the basketball with the first half coming to a close.

Foye provides the Wizards with another weapon and the sort of flexibility the Wizards have not had in the Arenas-Jamison-Butler era.

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