- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 29, 2009

That was Gilbert Arenas slicing through the defense of the Mavericks, hitting jumpers, finding teammates, picking his spots.

That was the Wizards exercising their newfound familiarity with the defensive end of the floor.

No one anticipated Wizards 102, Mavericks 91 in the season opener.

No one anticipated the Wizards dispatching a highly competent team on the road, a team that wins 50-plus games each season as if it were mandated in the NBA bylaws.

The Wizards so thoroughly answered the Mavericks that no late-game run materialized.

The retooled Mavericks looked a whole lot like the bunch that is overly dependent on Dirk Nowitzki and cannot get an important defensive stop. The retooled Mavericks looked like a team trying to integrate its new pieces and find its way. The retooled Mavericks looked like the team you expected the Wizards to be in their debut.

Yet the Wizards, from Arenas to Randy Foye and Mike Miller, looked like old hands, looked like they knew exactly what to expect from each other, looked like they had used the preseason to address each player’s likes and dislikes on the floor.

The Wizards appeared potentially formidable if you consider Antawn Jamison was glued to the bench in street clothes, Caron Butler endured a subpar shooting performance and Brendan Haywood missed a number of shots from close range.

That was a good sign in a way. It means the Wizards do not have to be in top form to defeat a quality team on the road. They merely have to be competent. They merely need one of their three leading players to be a high-level performer.

Or close to it, as Arenas was.

Arenas’ 29-point, nine-assist performance was especially encouraging because of what it portends. The three-time All-Star is not where he will be in two months. He was making what was essentially his first appearance since he originally hurt his left knee in April 2007.

His 13-game stint in 2008 was mostly about a player trying to push through on one leg.

The same with his two-game cameo last spring.

The newly rebuilt Arenas flashed some of his old explosiveness. He had no trouble getting past the laterally challenged Jason Kidd or mighty mite Jose Barea. He had no trouble getting a shot if he wanted it. He imposed his will on the proceedings just enough to be the difference-maker.

If that is where he is now, you can assume he will be far more effective and efficient once he has appeared in 20 to 25 games. All his instincts will return by then. His legs will be fully restored and in game condition, which only will increase the accuracy of his 3-point shots.

The return of Arenas overshadowed in part the good work of Andray Blatche, forever earning the team’s Best Player in the Summer Award before succumbing to lethargy and indifference in the regular season.

Maybe now, in his fifth season in the NBA, Blatche is poised to be the multidimensional sort with the forward’s body and perimeter skill. Maybe now Blatche is the player Ernie Grunfeld has envisioned for so long, the player Grunfeld has stuck by while teammates and the media have wondered whether he ever would get what it means to be a professional.

Blatche finished with 20 points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes. Equally important, he was active, whether it was keeping the ball alive or getting a hand in the face of Nowitzki.

If this is the new version of Blatche - the committed performer and not the one who dances the night away - he could be the dynamic who pushes the Wizards to 50-plus wins.

Not too long ago, the Wizards needed big production from two of their three leading players to have a fighting chance.

That observation was shown to be out of date on an unexpected night in Dallas.

The Wizards have a number of weapons now, two of whom happened to come off the bench against the Mavericks.

That bodes well for a team with serious aspirations.

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