- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2007

The Hibachi will be cooking next month in Las Vegas.

The NBA announced last night that Gilbert Arenas, snubbed as a reserve last season for the All-Star Game and ultimately placed on the team by Commissioner David Stern, will be a starter.

“It feels great — my spot is guaranteed!” Arenas said yesterday, barely able to contain himself upon hearing the news. “I don’t have to worry about coaches voting for me. They don’t have to make tough decisions on me. This is just amazing.”

Arenas claimed the starting spot by edging Vince Carter by 3,010 votes, the fourth-closest margin in All-Star Game history. Arenas finished with 1,454,166 votes to Carter’s 1,451,146 votes. Two weeks ago Arenas trailed by 214,460 votes.

Last season Arenas, who will be making his third consecutive All-Star Game appearance, wasn’t even originally selected as a reserve by the coaches on his way to finishing fourth in the league in scoring (29.3). Stern eventually rectified the situation.

And despite breaking the team’s single-game scoring record with 60 points against the Los Angeles Lakers last month, followed by scoring 54 against the Phoenix Suns, Arenas — the league’s player of the month for December — found himself well behind Carter in the voting.

But Arenas continued playing at a high level in January. And no doubt buzzer-beating jumpers against Milwaukee and Utah — highlights run over and over again — helped his cause as Arenas caught and eventually passed Carter.

Ballots were cast both at arenas and via the Internet.

Arenas, 25, will be joined as a starter on the East team by Miami guard Dwyane Wade, Cleveland forward LeBron James, Toronto forward Chris Bosh and Miami center Shaquille O’Neal.

“He’s gotten better by leaps and bounds in everything,” said Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, adding he still wants Arenas to become a better defender. “But he’s gotten better every year in everything. From winning most improved [in 2002-03 with Golden State], to his scoring average to leading a team into the playoffs.”

Arenas will be the first Wizards player to start in an All-Star Game since Michael Jordan in 2003 in Atlanta. He is just the fourth Washington player to be named a starter in the last 31 years.

Arenas, the league’s second-leading scorer (29.7), said he wants to get Jordan into the game as the East coach — an honor that will go to the team with the best record, excluding Detroit, as of Feb. 4. He also would like to see teammates Caron Butler — who has never made the team before — and Antawn Jamison get named All-Stars by the coaches next week.

Butler is having the best year of his career, averaging 21.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.05 steals a game. Jamison is averaging 18.9 points and leading the team in rebounding (8.1)

“There is now doubt that [Butler] belongs, Antawn too,” Arenas said. “Look at the other guys in the league that they are considering. I’ll put what they are doing up against any of those guys and my guys come out on top.

“As far as Eddie is concerned, it’s one of our goals to have the best record in the East so he can go. We’ve got a lot of motivation.”

Not one to toot his own horn, Butler, after saying the team is focusing on winning a championship above everything else, acknowledged he believes he has played well enough to be placed on the team.

“I know I belong, but it’s a matter of how others feel,” Butler said. “I know what I am, and I’ve known for a long time what type of person I am and what type of player I am. I’m just happy that I’m getting some notice now.”

Note — Arenas forecast an 80-plus point night if he could get one chance against Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, the coach of the U.S. national team that did not include the Wizards’ guard at last summer world championships.

“One college game that’s five fouls, right? 40-minute game at Duke, they got soft rims I’d probably score 84 or 85,” Arenas wrote on his NBA.com blog. “I wouldn’t pass the ball. I wouldn’t even think about passing it. It would be like a NBA Live or an NBA 2K7 game, you just shoot with one person.”

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