The narrative for tonight's game is pretty well set. It will be Gilbert Arenas against the Washington Wizards. One can try to avoid as much as one wishes, but this story is going to get pushed, then pushed some more, and then pushed again. Truthfully, the Phonebooth has a weird vibe tonight, as Wizards players and staff appear to be a bit more focused than usual. Coach Flip Saunders even went as far to run set plays in warmups and conduct 4-4 drills. In Saunders' words, he used to do this all the time in Detroit and is meant to "get the players a little bit of contact" and accustomed to the physicality. In other words, Flip is trying to get the frontline ready to be thrown around by Dwight Howard and Brandon Bass all night.
As for the player that all eyes are upon, Gilbert Arenas was out early and often shooting with his headphones on. For those of you who remain interested, Arenas looked laser locked in and it wouldn't come as a complete surprise to me if he exploded for 30 tonight. On the other hand, this is a player only averaging 15+ minutes a game, so it all depends on how much leash Stan Van Gundy gives him.
SF Hedo Turkoglu
C Dwight Howard
PG John Wall
SG Nick Young
Note: Hamady N'Diaye was brought back from the D-League because he tweaked his knee and the NBDL season break coincides with the NBA Allstar Weekend.
UPDATE: Gilbert Arenas didn't talk, but Stan Van Gundy and Rashard Lewis did. More from them below the jump:
Van Gundy on the reception he expects Arenas will get:
"I really don't know. I think that it's always a little more to have a bit more of an expectation when guys are coming back to your place."
"Your hope would always be that he remembered the good times and the things he did to excite this city for a long time and not have that overshadowded by one incident. But again, I wasn't here and I don't know what people's feelings are."
Van Gundy on Arenas' attitude
"His attitude's been great. He's been working at it hard. He's been a team guy all the way. Obviously, he came right in and made a sacrfice in coming off the bench. I always have respect for guys willing to make sacrifices for the good of the team."
Van Gundy on his recent struggles:
"We've just got to get him right back physically and hopefully get his game back to what it was. I think he's still a waise away, but he's had good stretches in games and I think he's playing better. The hard thing for him is that it's a big adjustment coming off the bench and having to inject yourself in ... that's a lot harder an adjustment that people understand."
"I don't think it's a matter of confidence. I think that Gil is supremely confident in his abilites. I think it's more a question of whether he is comfortable with a new role, a new team and what we want him to do. I don't think he has any doubts of his own abilities."
Van Gundy on Arenas' transition
"He's back playing a different position for a different team coming off the bench. You couldn't structure a more difficult transition for a guy than what we gave him. He had really nothing in his comfort zone in the transition. I think as he becomes more comfortable, he'll bust out and people will see the dynamic offensive player he can be."
Van Gundy on if anything surprised him about Arenas
"There haven't been any surprises. My expectations were that things would be good. Otis had a relationship with him ... so I havent' really been surprised at all one way or the other."
Van Gundy on Rashard Lewis
"He was by far the most significant change when the franchise turned it around. That's what stands out in my mind about him as a player."
"I'm pretty confident that Rashard knows that I hold him in very high regard and have tremendous respect for him as a player, as a professional and as a person."
He said he was at shootaround when he heard he was traded. Got calls from Otis Smith, his agent and a friend from Washington D.C.
"It kept ringing and ringing, and I was like. Uh oh, that rumor must me true."
Lewis said that Van Gundy and him have texted a few times back and forth, just to ask how each other is doing. He added that he still watches his old team as much as possible.
"It feels a little weird also. I could see if I was traded over the summer, when I could rethink and refocus myself toward this new organization ... it's more weird than anything to know you were on that team this season, and now you're on another team."
Lewis said it's been tough to go back to his Seattle ways, playing small forward instead of power forward, and that he's trying to "convert myself" back into the old style of play. He said he still keeps in touch with his old teammates, talking about "stuff that doesn't concern basketball," and added that he's not about to go show up his old teammates.
"I'm to a point where I'm not looking on the calendar and targeting [this game]. There are no grudges, no bad blood tonight. I'm going to go out there to play the game to win the game. I'm not going to go out there and take 40 shots ... I'm not going to be chest-bumping, or cussing, looking at Stan [Van Gundy] or Otis [Smith]and giving them the finger."