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Miller's return had brought back some optimism; because of the way he encourages ball movement with the Wizards, who had 22 assists against the Hornets. The team plays better with him on the floor, either by making the extra pass or spreading the floor for Antawn Jamison or Brendan Haywood to get easier looks on the floor. Even though he hasn't been around much this season, his absence is noticeable. "If the ball moves, I'm able to get good position for rebounds, or I'm able to get easy dunks," Haywood said after scoring 14 points and 14 rebounds. "I don't think it's a coincidence that it happened when Mike Miller was out there."
With just under 10 minutes left in the third quarter, Miller, guarded by Peja Stojakovic (20 points), drove to the paint after he received a pass from the wing. In the paint, Miller was doubled by Paul, who swiftly popped the basketball out of Miller's hands. Miller, caught between his forward momentum and an airborne ball, jerked his body back and up and landed awkwardly when he came back down to the court. As Miller landed, he re-aggravated the calf injury, the Wizards would later report, which had kept Miller out since November 21st. He is expected to undergo an MRI on Monday.
Instead of folding with Miller out and down by 14 points, the Wizards rallied to close the third quarter on an impressive 17-4 run while outscoring the Hornets 33-20. It allowed the Wizards to turn an 11-point half-time deficit into an 82-80 leading going into the final quarter. "There’s still a lot of fight," Foye noted. "You can’t make twos and give up threes. We did everything we could do everywhere else except for on the three point line. We let their guys hit easy threes."
Saunders is probably going a little crazy because he remains stuck on career win No. 599. When the season began, he surely couldn't have expected that he would still be in search of his 600th victory in the second week of January. But that remains the case for Saunders and the Wizards, who shot 57.5 percent and had five players score in double figures but continue to find ways to lose -- games and players.
"There's no one out there that can just consistently say, give me the ball, I'm going to go ahead and get you 30," said Haywood. "That's not going to happen. We're going to have to play better as a team, and I think we had some lulls, in the second quarter and in the fourth." Actually, Antawn Jamison led all scorers with 32 points, but Haywood was correct in that the Wizards (12-23) were undone by eight turnovers in the second period and three miscues on four possessions with less than three minutes to play.
For the second time in as many games the Wizards ball movement was remarkably better than it’s been all season. Before the game Flip Saunders said he was concerned with the early start time (1 p.m.), but the way his team came out in the first quarter Flip may want every game to be a matinee. The Wizards shot a blistering 75 percent in the quarter and had nine assists on 15 made baskets. Saunders has emphasized making the extra pass all season and his team is finally heading to his word. This new found unselfishness also coincides with Randy Foye being inserted into the starting lineup at point guard. He’s made a conscious effort, over the past two games, to get his teammates open looks resulting in 14 assists over that span. The loss of Gilbert Arenas has given a Foye a chance to shine after not playing much over the past month.
Haywood has made 13 consecutive field goals over two games, the longest such streak by a Wizards player since No. 1 overall draft pick flop Kwame Brown(notes) in March 2004. When told that stat, Haywood replied: "I don’t want that record. I don’t want to be with him,"—a reminder that Brown is remembered far less fondly than Arenas.
Gilbert Arenas news & commentary
According to the best account we have so far, Arenas laid out the unloaded guns in front of Crittenton's locker and wrote a note instructing Crittenton to pick one--a badly misguided attempt to needle his teammate over a gambling dispute. When Crittenton came in and saw the joke unfolding, he crumpled the note in a rage, threw one of the guns across the room, then drew his own weapon and chambered a round of ammunition. Had Arenas been a bona fide thug, it's doubtful he would have joked around this way--he'd have known the subject of the joke was liable to pull a loaded gun on him. (As Karl Malone's granddaddy told him when he was six, "If you ever pull a gun, be prepared to fire that gun, because the person you pull that gun on has every right to pull a gun on you.") But the benign, if feather-brained, Arenas couldn't see how the humor might backfire on him, so to speak. Certainly it would be hard to begrudge the league for making a point about guns by coming down hard on its most notorious goofball. (Though the NBA and the Wizards were all too happy to encourage the goofball persona when it suited them.) And no one can deny that Arenas is 100 percent responsible for all the trouble he's in. But, please, save us the moralistic blather. If Gilbert Arenas is an NBA bad guy, then the league is downright irredeemable.
We're told, according to witnesses, the whole thing started after Arenas displayed 4 guns on the bunch in front of his locker. Witnesses told authorities Crittenton said, "I have my own gun" -- went to his locker and pulled it out. Soon after, we're told, witnesses say Wizards officials began to enter the locker room -- and Crittenton tossed his weapon into a laundry bin, which was wheeled out of the locker room before anyone knew what was going on.
Felony charges would be applicable, Nickles said, if Arenas were determined to have used a gun in a threatening manner. Most accounts of the confrontation between Arenas and his teammate Javaris Crittenton agree that Arenas did not make threatening gestures; one account last week, in The Washington Post, cited several unnamed eyewitnesses who said that Crittenton did, by pulling out his own gun and loading it. Still, for the moment, it is Arenas’s actions that are being closely scrutinized by legal authorities in a setting in which gun control has a notable history and is hardly something taken lightly.
The financial implications of a pessimistic projection for Arenas are considerable. If we assume that a replacement-level player costs $825,000--the cost to the team of a minimum-salary player with two or more years of experience--teams are paying about $1.8 million per marginal win this season. By that logic, Arenas was on track to be worth about $16.7 million this season--almost exactly his salary of $16.2 million. The problem is that as Arenas' production declines, his salary will only be increasing. If he performs as similar players have over the next four years, Arenas will be worth about $32 million. While that figure does not include inflation of NBA salaries, keep in mind it is less than half of the $80 million Arenas is actually scheduled to make. Shedding Arenas' contract would leave the Wizards with just two players on the books for more than $4.2 million next season--forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, both of whom the team could potentially move for expiring contracts. Arenas' deal, by contrast, was virtually unmovable even before this recent situation. So what is at stake is the ability for a Washington team that has been a major disappointment in 2009-10 and now is sporting a major public relations black eye to be able to rebuild almost overnight.