By John Powell
The Washington Wizards took to the road for a four-game stretch in hopes that they would snap their 21-game losing streak. With a mesmerizing lack of defense on the road, they failed to get the monkey off their back, extending the streak to 25 games.
They needed no more distractions, but they came home to face a player full of distractions in Gilbert Arenas.
Arenas was the star guard for the Washington Wizards before he was traded to the Orlando Magic on Dec. 18 for Rashard Lewis. He brought guns into the locker room last season and then was suspended from the NBA through the beginning of his 2010-11 campaign before ending up in a halfway house.
Upon his return, he was charged with the task of training rookie point guard John Wall for the future. But that plan never materialized. The two guards only started three games together, losing all of them, due to Arenas’s suspension and a string of leg injuries that Wall suffered.
“It’s home,” Arenas said of Washington. “I mean this technically is the longest place I’ve ever lived. When I moved to California at ten, I moved back and forth. This is the longest place I’ve ever lived. I consider this home.”
Friday night was when the Wizards had a chance to turn the corner. First, they had a chance to snap a six-game losing streak. Then, they could look for closure to the Arenas situation by handing his team a loss. And finally, Wall could show his old mentor what he learned on his home court.
But Arenas began his night, like many others with the Magic, on the bench, playing behind guards Jason Richardson and Jameer Nelson, who averaged a combined 26.8 points per game and 10.8 assists. Arenas did come in, beginning in the first quarter and was instantly matched up against Wall.
Neither team was firing on all cylinders. Both teams’ shooting percentages were both only a few tenths of a point away, just over 45.0 percent. Even though Dwight Howard, who finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds, did not miss a shot through nearly 36 minutes, it was not enough to compensate for the poor shooting of his teammates.
Howard helped his team to a 14-point lead in the first quarter, but quickly saw it dwindle into a deficit minutes later. The Magic could not pull away until a jumper by forward Ryan Anderson gave them a 2-point lead over the Wizards midway through the third quarter.
“Sometimes in the third quarter we come out good, and sometimes we don’t,” Wall said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to come out good every game.”
On Washington’s side, their perfect shooting mark from the line kept them close, but without making a shot from three, they could not pull away. Arenas and Nelson limited Wall to five assists, while the Magic ran away with 18 assists between their top three guards.
While Dwight Howard pulled Orlando together, it was a night of a few individual performances for the Wizards. With a flustered John Wall, Kirk Hinrich came off the bench for 17 points and Trevor Booker worked for six blocked shots and a powerful dunk in just under 24 minutes.
“It’s what I’ve been waiting for,” Booker said. “I know what I’m capable of. It just gets me excited every time I do it.”
It seemed that the bench’s play was the only bright spot in a game where no starter put up 20 points or found double digits in any other category.
“Our bench was great tonight,” Washington Head Coach Flip Saunders said. “Booker was great. He had great energy, playing with a great amount of enthusiasm. Hinrich was great tonight.”
Arenas could not capitalize against his former system either, although it was mostly due to his limited playing time. In about 25 minutes, he tallied six assists with 10 points, before being stuffed under the basket in the fourth quarter.
But the Magic came together and worked well where they needed to. They outscored the Wizards 42-28 in the paint and had 24 second-chance points to Washington’s 15.
Wall finally had enough of the game’s physicality, the increasing deficit, and his poor play. He was charged with his second technical foul of the night and tossed from the game.
In his postgame interview, Wall admitted to saying something to the referee as he was walking away, but did not even realize he received the technical until he was at the bench.
Orlando did not let up when Wall left the game, finishing with a 110-92 final score.
“I think he’s frustrated,” Saunders said. “He is getting knocked down a lot. I think he is getting knocked down and he is not getting many calls when he goes to the basket.”
After all was said and done, it was in no way a victory for the Wizards. The experience and maturity prevailed in the end over the inexperience and youth that the Washington Wizards have made themselves known for.
Photo Courtesy of John Powell