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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Arenas Comes up a Mere 31 Points Shy of 50, Wizards Lose to Portland

Remember all that Gilbert Arenas for MVP talk? Can we please find whoever started it and ban him/her from writing/talking about basketball for a year? Gilbert Arenas pledged to score 50 points against Phoenix and 50 points against Portland because their head coaches were part of the Team USA coaching staff that cut Arenas this past summer. He did get 54 in an overtime win at Phoenix but managed just nine points in a 94-73 loss in Washington's first game this season versus Portland. Never one to lose confidence, Arenas told me during All-Star Weekend, "I was playing possum. I just tried to win the game. I want to hit 50 in their building; I didn’t want to hit 50 in my building." I'm not sure how shooting 3-15 from the field with two assists and five turnovers counts as "playing possum" or helped his team's efforts but Arenas insisted to me that he would make good on his promise in his next game against Portland: "At the end of the day, I still have one more game against them. So if I score 50, hey, everything that I said was true."

That "one more game" was played on Tuesday and Arenas came up a mere 31 points short of his goal, scoring 19 points on 4-16 shooting in a 100-98 loss. He missed all seven of his three point attempts and a last second shot to tie the game. Arenas did manage to dish out 10 assists despite his bricklaying. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Arenas has had 15 games this season during which he has shot 30 percent or less from the field. The only NBA player who has more such games (with a minimum of 10 field goal attempts) is Mike Bibby (19).

This is what Arenas wrote a couple days ago about his plans for the Portland game: "I know coach is going to get mad for me saying this, but if I don’t score 50, damn it, there’s going to be a lot of shots to get to 50. You know, last time I shot 15 shots. At the end of the day, I want to win. It’s harder in this situation now because it’s winning time. Early in the season I can do that, I can go out there and just play reckless. But it’s more of a team thing now that we get these wins and we don’t droff – we don’t drop off. If I’m on fire, I’m on fire. If I’m not, just like last time, I’m not going to force anything" (yes, I left the typos uncorrected).

How do you think Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan feels about Arenas' prediction, his interesting idea that early season games don't matter ("I can go out there and play reckless") and the overall result? Not real happy: "It affected how they (Portland) played. Defensively, they double teamed him and switched off on him. I think it really jacked them up twice to play us. I don't know how it affected Gilbert, you'll have to ask him that but it really jacked them up." Jordan added, "There were 24 minutes when we played hard and played together and then there were 24 minutes when we didn't play the right way, didn't protect the rim and didn't play good defense. I'm going to find the guys who will play for 48 minutes the right way. And if I've got to sit some people, I'm going to sit some people but I'm looking for the right mix. This is the time to play with each other, to play good solid basketball. Protect the rim, rebound, execute and share the basketball. And I'm going to find the guys to do it."

Do you think that Arenas regrets his prediction and his outlandish statements? If you do, then you are not paying attention. Arenas made it clear after the game that he does not regret anything he said or did: "No. I was a marked man in Phoenix and they couldn't do anything about it. Sometimes you shoot the bull's-eye and sometimes you don't."

There is a lot at stake for Washington. The Miami Heat have gained four games on the Wizards in the past 10 and are now just a half game back from the Southeast Division lead. If--when--the Heat pass the Wizards, Washington plummets from third seed (and homecourt advantage in the first round) to the sixth seed (the top four seeds go to the three division winners and the team with the best record that did not win a division title).

Here's a little NBA thought experiment: imagine that a certain player--call him "24"--boasts that he is going to score 50 against a certain team and admits that early in the season he feels like "I can go out there and just play reckless." There wouldn't be any backlash, would there? Now imagine if Arenas kept his mouth shut, played the way his coach wants him to play instead of ignoring the defensive end of the court as if it contains a communicable disease and produced back to back games the likes of which haven't been seen in 40 years or so. That wouldn't produce any MVP buzz, would it? We'll never know, because the likelihood of Arenas doing that is vanishingly small.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:35 AM

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