- The Washington Times - Monday, November 30, 2009

In yet another example of what has become a familiar occurrence this season, the Washington Wizards left the court perplexed Saturday after a 92-76 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats.

Instead of continuing the progress they made Friday in a 10-point road win over the Miami Heat, the Wizards again demonstrated an inability to build on positive developments this season. Washington looked like an entirely different team, scoring a season-low 76 points and failing to generate any rhythm. In the process, the Wizards again were unable to develop an identity or get in sync with new coach Flip Saunders.

“I thought we made a lot of progress [in the past week], and we made more progress last night and then we took steps back tonight,[“] Saunders said Saturday. “We have not proven to have the ability to carry over what we prepare and play. We didn’t have the sense of urgency tonight.”

Though many factors have contributed to the Wizards’ rocky start, the erratic play of Gilbert Arenas has had the greatest impact on the offensive struggles.

Saunders has said repeatedly the key to success for his offense is for Arenas to be aggressive. When the guard attacks the basket, it frees up his teammates and also creates opportunities for him.

But aside from the season-opening win over Dallas, when he had 29 points and nine assists, Arenas has yet to show an ability or willingness to do so.

Saunders on Saturday admitted he is confused by the lack of aggression Arenas has shown and was left to conclude that the two years of inactivity and the rigorous early stretch may have started to catch up with the guard.

“I read this stuff a lot where Gil wants to be [the leader]. But we’re not doing anything to hold him back,” Saunders said. “I think he’s going through a process right now. He’s not shooting the ball well; a lot of times he’s not quick getting on balance. I think back-to-backs maybe he struggles a little bit. … I knew he’d go through a process. You’ve got to realize since we started training camp, we’ve had maybe six days off and he played some major minutes early, and I think that’s caught up to him a little bit.”

Arenas didn’t share his coach’s sentiments, however. Saturday was his second straight single-digit performance, and in his past five games Arenas has shot 38 percent from the field and made two of 16 3-point attempts.

“What do you expect me to do? Go out there and score 30? I’m not going to go out there and try to score 30 when we have a lot of offensive players here,” Arenas said. “Last game I was 4-for-7. [Saturday] I was 3-for-11. I’ll take the shots I feel are sufficient for me. Other than that, the offensive load’s on everybody else.”

On his health and reacclimation process, Arenas said: “Back-to-back, I’m fine. I still have my explosiveness. I’m still trying to figure out when I should use it.”

The guard did admit he hasn’t followed Saunders’ instructions to attack but said it’s not because he hasn’t wanted to. He simply doesn’t have the confidence, he said.

“He keeps telling me to be aggressive, but I don’t know. I haven’t been that guy in two years. So I’m just trying to find my way that I’m comfortable again and getting the trust of the team,” Arenas said. “Right now, I don’t know if these guys trust me to take 10 straight shots. I don’t know if I trust myself to take 10 straight shots.”

Arenas admits the early-season struggles - both team and individual - have been frustrating. But he’s far from concerned.

“It’s [15] games into the season. Just because you start off 6-0 doesn’t mean anything,” Arenas said. “We’ll see what happens in March. At the end of the day, you have 82 games. You’re going to win some division games, and you’re going to lose some division games. You would’ve liked to have some of them early, but we didn’t, so we’ll just have to win them later on.”

• Mike Jones can be reached at mjones@washingtontimes.com.

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