- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008


The Wizards have to resist the urge to stand around and watch Gilbert Arenas employ his one-on-one maneuvers.

The Wizards have to make a determined effort to be more active with Arenas on the floor, to make their cuts to the basket, to follow the tenets of their offense.

It is easy to understand why the Wizards become stagnant on offense if Arenas is in the game. He stepped onto the floor in Game 1 and promptly buried four 3-pointers to stake the Wizards to an 11-point lead early in the second quarter.

Sometimes Arenas can overwhelm the opposition all by himself. At least he could before he underwent a second surgery on his left knee and missed 69 games during the regular season.

It is clear that the post-surgical Arenas lacks stamina and quickness. Once, when LeBron James was matched against him defensively, Arenas could do nothing but pass the ball to a teammate after surrendering his dribble.

The pre-surgical Arenas nearly broke the ankles of James after making a hard cut on him in a November game at home last season. Eddie Jordan concedes you will not see that Arenas again until next fall, and possibly in a different uniform.

The latter is an offseason worry, subservient to a third consecutive playoff meeting with the Cavaliers.

The Wizards have now lost seven consecutive playoff games to the Cavaliers, although the four last spring come with an asterisk because of the injuries to Arenas and Caron Butler.

Yet the Game 1 finish bore a striking resemblance to the Wizards’ three one-point losses to the Cavaliers in the 2006 playoffs. The outcome was decided on a few plays at the end, with James providing the answers and the Wizards being unable to counter.

The Wizards claimed a fifth seed this season because of their ball-sharing attitude honed in the absence of Arenas. That is no subtle knock on Arenas, a dynamic scorer who is destined to change the feel and pace of an offense if he is in the game, as is the case with all the dynamic scorers around the NBA.

When Arenas was the team’s head cheerleader this season, the offense often started with the ball being delivered to Butler, who showed he had a gift for getting teammates high-percentage shots. He posted three triple-doubles and flirted with the stat in several other games.

With Arenas back in the lineup, Butler has moved down in the pecking order. Of course, he has been slowed by a series of injuries, showing only flashes of the player who dropped 40 points on the Bucks in late January and was playing at the highest level of his career. Butler scored more than 20 points in only three of his last 17 games in the regular season. He, too, probably won’t be in peak form until next season.

Not surprisingly, Jordan shortened his player rotation in Game 1 and limited the minutes of Andray Blatche, Roger Mason and Darius Songaila. Unable to establish a rhythm, plus adjust to Arenas being on the floor, the trio went 1-for-10 shooting and combined for three points and seven rebounds.

In the absence of a smooth flow on offense, the Wizards slipped into their previous incarnation of being overly dependent on Arenas, with Butler and Antawn Jamison picking their scoring spots.

The Wizards finished with 16 assists, nearly four assists fewer than their average during the regular season. And they were seduced by the perimeter shot at the worst possible time — after earning the free throw bonus with 7:42 left.

So the free throw discrepancy between the teams only grew. The Cavaliers ended up with 20 more free throw attempts than the Wizards, the difference in the game that drew no protest from Jordan, who knew the Cavaliers were the more aggressive team.

And so the Wizards must summon their well-documented resilience again or succumb to a 2-0 deficit in Cleveland tonight.

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