||10-31-2009 09:58 PM
wizards showing growth
WASHINGTON(AP) Gilbert Arenas scored 32 points, including a halfcourt buzzer-beater at the end of the first quarter, Andray Blatche scored a career-high 30, and the Washington Wizards overcame the absence of both of their regular starting forwards Saturday night in a 123-104 win over the New Jersey Nets.
With injured two-time All-Stars Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison on the bench in their expensive dark suits for the home opener, Arenas made 9 of 13 shots, 11 of 12 free throws and had seven assists. Butler sat out after bruising his left knee in Friday night's loss to Atlanta, and Jamison is out at least two more weeks with an injured right shoulder - bothersome news for a team that hasn't had its top players healthy in a long time.
But Arenas and Blatche carried the load with room to spare. Blatche made his first five shots and finished 15 for 18 from the field for the Wizards, who shot 61.5 percent - their best shooting game in seven years.
Chris Douglas-Roberts had a career-high 25 points to lead the Nets, who were missing point guard Devin Harris - out at least a week with an injured right groin. Rafer Alston scored 20 points starting in Harris' spot.
The Wizards guessed right when they decided to pass out Arenas masks for Halloween, given that he was the only one of the team's Big Three who could play. Though still announced as Agent Zero during the pregame hoopla, Arenas looks as if he really has ditched his flamboyant alter ego. He was virtually expressionless on the court and walked toward the bench after his halfcourt buzzer jumper as if he were walking down a hallway somewhere - without even cracking a smile or raising his arms to acknowledge the cheers.
The shot gave the Wizards a 28-24 lead and had a carry-over effect. DeShawn Stevenson hit a 3 to start the second quarter, and Blatche's tip got the lead to double figures a few minutes later. Arenas scored nine straight Washington points near the end of the half, helping his team to a 62-51 lead at the break.
The Nets never got within single digits in the second half. The highlight was Blatche's powerful baseline drive dunk that made the score 109-84 in the fourth quarter. Unlike Arenas, Blatche didn't mind celebrating - he strutted away from the basket and exchanged high-fives as he made his way down the court.
NOTES: Arenas, who missed most of the last two seasons with knee problems, last had a 30-point game on Nov. 14, 2007 against Indiana. ... Harris, who also had a groin problem during preseason, felt it act up during the Nets' loss to Orlando on Friday and will see a specialist in Chicago on Sunday. ... Butler is expected to return for Tuesday's game against Cleveland. Mike Miller moved to Butler's small forward in the Wizards starting lineup, and Randy Foye started at shooting guard. ... None of Washington's starting five were playing for the team at the start of last season. Arenas and Brendan Haywood were hurt, and Miller, Foye and Fabricio Oberto were acquired in the offseason. ... Even though it was the home opener on Halloween night - and even though Arenas was playing well in a comfortable win - the Verizon Center was hardly a din of excitement. The crowd was remarkably quiet during the decisive second quarter, behaving more like an audience waiting out the intermission on Broadway.
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