- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Gilbert Arenas hoisted the Wizards on his back late in the third quarter of Game 4 and did what the leading figures of the NBA are supposed to do in the playoffs — he rescued his team from the looming near-death experience of a 3-1 series deficit.

He scored 28 of his 34 points in the second half, 20 in the fourth quarter, and wrested the exercise from the hands of LeBron James, who has been the principal story line of the series.

Regardless of the breathless superlatives being tossed in the direction of James, Arenas has imposed his will on the series every bit as much as the precocious one.

This slight, of course, goes with the underdog dimension of Arenas that has been mined to the point of banality by the local and national press.

Arenas has shown himself to be a big-time player the last two seasons, and it could be argued that what really leaves him on the fringes of the top-tier players in the game now is the absence of a national shoe commercial.

Arenas, in his own way, has shown himself to be the equal of James in the first four games of the series.

In fact, if Arenas had hit the game-winning shot at the end of Game 3, the question would not be one of equality.

His 17 points in the fourth quarter of Game 3 provided the Wizards with a serious amount of sustenance.

It came down to a final shot only because James was afforded 10 steps on his jaunt to the basket on the possession prior to Arenas’ stab at victory that rimmed out.

Of the two, Arenas has been less prone to moments of frustration than James.

Arenas also has not allowed the officiating to discombobulate him, as it has James on occasion.

Game 2 swung in the favor of the Wizards after James showed he could not take a hit and Arenas showed he could.

James disappeared for the longest time in the second half of Game 4, which coincided with the Wizards erasing a 13-point deficit in the third quarter.

His tentativeness on offense was prompted by the Wizards closing the driving lanes to him and his glut of four player-control fouls, four in all.

In the Cavaliers’ two losses to the Wizards, James was a fundamental part of the breakdowns because of 17 turnovers.

This is James’ first playoff appearance, to be sure. There is a learning curve despite the rush of the national press and Nike to anoint him the next Michael Jordan.

Arenas has a steadier grasp of the postseason than James because of his experiences there last spring.

His game-winning shot in Game 5 in Chicago last spring — over the outstretched hands of both Kirk Hinrich and Tyson Chandler — was one of the most dramatic in franchise history.

Arenas has saved his best work for the final 12 minutes of each game in the series. His 31.0 scoring average in the series becomes even more impressive after it is noted that 14.8 of the output is coming in the fourth quarter.

And it is not as if the Cavaliers do not know the mind-set of Arenas. They know all too well but are helpless to stop it.

Given the developments so far, the outcome of the series seemingly is destined to be determined by either Arenas or James.

James and the Cavaliers have the edge because of homecourt advantage, although both teams have shown they can win on the opposition’s home floor.

The Cavaliers are the deeper team, the Wizards the one with the more effective lead players in Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas has been mostly a nonfactor in the series, and Larry Hughes is playing as if he does not know his role with the Cavaliers.

Arenas or James. James or Arenas.

So far, their duel is as tight as the series.

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