Jake's computer is having problems, so I'll post the morning briefing today. Let me know if you have any links to add.
Flip Saunders really had no idea what to expect before he coached his first game with the Washington Wizards. There were too many new pieces, too many unknowns. Gilbert Arenas, his best player, hadn't played in a season opener in two years. Antawn Jamison, his all-star power forward, was on the bench in a suit. And, Saunders hadn't announced his starting shooting guard and power forward until earlier in the day.
Given that the Wizards were opening the year on the road against the Dallas Mavericks, a potential contender in the Western Conference, Saunders said he was just going to sit back, like an antsy fan, and see how everything played out. He had to be pleased with what transpired Tuesday night at American Airlines Center, as the Wizards won, 102-91.
Washington Wizards fans have wondered all summer and preseason which Gilbert Arenas they would get for the 2009-10 NBA season. The player who made only cameo appearances the past two seasons while recovering from three knee surgeries? The three-time All-Star, who could score with the best of them? Something in between?
Shortly before his Wizards tipped off the season Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, coach Flip Saunders admitted that he too was curious.
"I'm like everyone else - I'm waiting to see," Saunders said. "I think he's going to come out and I think he'll be aggressive in the things that he does. Having not played [completely healthy since April 2007], I'm sure he's excited to play, and I'm sure he'll get into a rhythm."
Saunders got exactly what he wanted - the former MVP candidate - as Arenas led Washington to a 102-91 victory.
Arenas is probably a month or a month and a half away from being back to form. I say this after watching him dice up the Dallas Mavericks for 29 points on 21 shots in the win on Tuesday, while understanding that sturdier legs and a stronger core were the only things that kept him from dropping 40. At least. 41, likely.
Honestly. The footwork, the touch, and that initial quickness ... it's all there. Now, all he needs is a few more weeks' worth of reps to just build up that muscle memory. To be able to stick in the same place on jumpers. That comfort zone, stung quicker. To pull off his usual go-to moves with a better batch of confidence behind them. To dominate, offensively, again.
I'm not telling you he can get to the Wade/Kobe/Roy strata. He wasn't ever there. And he might only be 98 percent of what he once was, when he hits his peak. But he'll be great, again.
After all those knee problems that allowed him to play in only 15 games over the past two seasons, Arenas announced his return to prominence by ringing up 29 points and nine assists without a lot of highlight-reel material. He merely capitalized with precision on what he called "weak" pick-and-roll defense from the Mavs to deliver a steady performance that looks gaudier in the box score than it did in person.
Not that the Wizards mind steady.
"He did his talking on the floor," Wiz coach Flip Saunders said. "Gil showed glimpses of . . . that unbelievable burst of speed and his ability to weave through people and score at the rim. I thought he ran our offense great as far as getting the ball to people.
"I think that anyone that had questions about where he's at ... he's just going to continue to get better and better."
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The contributions came from all over, and they really had to, with Antawn Jamison sidelined with a dislocated right shoulder and out for a few weeks, and being on the road in one of the most difficult buildings in the NBA. Scoring also stands out, but the stats that really were impressive were the ones posted by Oberto, Foye and Miller, whose plus-minus ratios were off the charts. Oberto was a plus-15 in just 17 minutes. Foye was a plus-16 and Miller was a plus-12, meaning that the box score doesn't always tell you how a player can be a factor in a victory.
And in the words of Flip: "The last guy was Mr. Steady, it was Caron [Butler]. Caron steadied us when we had Gil out of the game. He was efficient, he was aggressive with the ball, which we ran a lot of isolation type stuff so he could stay aggressive when Gil was out of the game. And he did a nice job defensively on Marion, who killed us at our place [in the preseason]. And I thought that Marion got some buckets, but he didn't get all of them on Caron. I thought Caron fought him and did a nice job. He really keyed us defensively."
Andray Blatche moved his feet, contested shots hard, and ran the court with purpose … all the things I like to see him do outside of picking up glamor stats like points, rebounds and blocks. I only remember two mistakes, an ill-advised airball with Dirk in his face and a lax moment in transition where Dampier, of all people, was allowed to jet down the court for a dunk. Both gaffes are certainly forgivable because of their small quantity.
He gift-wrapped a monster game in the season opener with 34 points and nine rebounds, but other than that, the birthday was pretty much a bummer.
The Mavs were clearly confused by the pick and roll, as Arenas and Brendan Haywood abused the Mavs for almost the entirety of the first half. Haywood responded with three thunderous first quarter dunks, resulting in a giant metaphorical wagging finger in the general direction of Erick Dampier. Damp knows better and the rest of the Mavs know better; if Dampier was too busy preventing Arenas from taking a quick jumper, someone else (ANYBODY else) should have stepped up to prevent Haywood from waltzing down the lane, untouched. That kind of defense is just unacceptable…unless, of course, you’re playing in the regular season opener and shaking off an inch-thick coat of rust.
MOVEMENT - The first thing you noticed about the 2009-10 edition of the Washington Wizards is that they are much more comfortable moving on the court. In seasons past, often the team looked lost in the free-flowing Eddie Jordan offense, particularly if subs were playing significant minutes for injured starters. Last night, the Wizards showed a lot more intended purpose in their cutting, defensive shifts, and decision making.
@BulletsForever: Oh. My. Gawd. Never in a million years could I have imagined us playing that well. The league better look out.
- @BulletsForever: Andray Blatche looks like a new player. Staying down on fakes, no wasted dribbles, strong moves, great pick and roll D.
- @docfunk: DeShawn Stevenson setting up the offense worries me. Stevenson setting up furniture worries me.
- @coachthorpe: Arenas and Foye playing together. I like that a lot more than Z and Shaq paired up.
- @MrMichaelLee: Just the way Flip drew it up: Feed Oberto in the post, let him stumble in the lane, fall over, get fouled and make the shot off the glass.
- @STEIN_LINE_HQ: Mavs' offense looks anemic. Against the Wiz, folks. It's Nowitzki and one big quarter from JJ Barea. Not the game we were expecting. At all.
- @johnhollinger: Most surprising opening day box score line: Nick Young, DNP-CD. I'd though Stevenson would be odd man out at the 2. Guess not.
- @Unsilent: #GilbertIsBack #GilbertIsBack #GilbertIsBack #GilbertIsBack #GilbertIsBack #GilbertIsBack