Tuesday, December 19, 2006

LOS ANGELES — For 34 years, Washington Wizards television analyst Phil Chenier stood comfortably behind Earl Monroe in the franchise’s record book.

But as the former Bullets guard strode though Staples Center to a bus ready to whisk him and the Wizards to their awaiting charter flight at Los Angeles International Airport, Chenier — who had just watched Gilbert Arenas’ record-setting 60-point effort in a 147-141 overtime victory over the Lakers — flashed a broad grin and a knowing nod reminiscent of a proud father.

“I think with the way he’s been playing we all knew that it was only a matter of time before this happened,” Chenier said. “And I don’t think he’s finished.”

Who could argue with Chenier?

The 53 points Chenier scored against Portland on Dec. 6, 1972, had survived assaults by basketball dignitaries like Michael Jordan, Bernard King, Moses Malone and Elvin Hayes. Before Arenas’ outburst, Chenier’s single-game performance trailed only the 56 points Hall of Fame guard Earl Monroe scored against the Lakers, also in overtime, on Feb. 13, 1968.

Now that record belongs to Arenas, who might be working on his own Hall of Fame career.

Before Arenas walked off the Staples Center court, he bowed twice to his hometown audience, made up of 75 friends and family, including his father and old high school coach.Arenas finished the game an efficient 17-for-32 from the field and 21-for-27 from the free throw line. Overshadowed were the two rebounds and two assists he needed for a triple double.

Arenas scored 16 points after regulation to give him the league record for points scored in overtime, eclipsing a record set by Denver’s diminutive Earl Boykins (15).

But making this performance so breathtaking were the conditions in which he played.

Arenas had 29 points by the end of the third quarter. Sensing something had to be done to curtail Arenas, Lakers coach Phil Jackson assigned Kobe Bryant — who has no bigger fan in the league than Arenas — to guard “The Hibachi” with just less nine minutes to play.

Jackson might as well have seasoned and tenderized Bryant before sending him out there.

While Bryant was spectacular in his own right — he finished with 45 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists — he was little more than a speed bump to Arenas. He saw, up close, most of Arenas’ 31 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.

In the aftermath Bryant was a mix of compliments and derision.

“You tip your hat and you say, ‘See you next time,’ ” he said. “First of all, he shot 27 free throws. We as a team shot 30. Think about that.

“But him, individually, it’s funny,” continued Bryant, whose 81-point performance last season trails only Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 in NBA history. “He doesn’t seem to have much of a conscience. I really don’t think he does. Some of the shots he took, you miss those, and they’re terrible shots. Awful. You make them, and they’re unbelievable shots. I don’t get a chance to play him much, so I just haven’t gotten used to that mentality of just chucking it up there. He made some big ones, but I’ll be ready for him next time.”

What Bryant appeared to ignore — as Arenas joined Chamberlain as the only player to score 60 against the Lakers (doing so multiple times) — is that Arenas got his points in the flow of the game. Nothing he did detracted from his teammates: Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison supported him with 27 and 25 points, respectively, and the Wizards made 50.6 percent of their shots.

Arenas, whose previous high of 47 came last December in a loss to Miami, said he and Bryant, who was hampered by five fouls in the fourth quarter, didn’t speak to each other.

“I’m not a trash talker. He doesn’t really talk trash,” Arenas said. “But this feels good. It feels better when you do it within the team system, within the team flow. I never really though I would take that many shots to hit 60. It wasn’t a plan. But since I did it, it feels great.”

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