Updated: April 3, 2009, 11:55 AM ET

Why Is Arenas Out There Playing Now?

I've said it a trillion times and will probably keep saying it, because, yes, I'm that stubborn:

For his own safety and the Washington Wizards' long-term wellness, I really wish that Agent Zero would have played in zero games this season.

However ...

I can confess now that I did fib a little. (Over and over again.)

I was secretly hoping that he'd at least play in one (or both) of Washington's two April games against Cleveland ... once it became apparent that Gilbert Arenas was so determined to ignore all of us naysayers anyway.

Irrational as that thinking might be, you can probably work out the reasoning. This is a league desperately low on real rivalries. Cleveland-Washington, one-sided or not, is one of the tastiest hookups we ever get, because these teams and fan bases harbor an undeniable contempt for each other. So you look forward to these encounters, even if the fact that the Cavs have largely neutered this "rivalry" by knocking the Wiz out of the playoffs three seasons in a row.

That was certainly the approach here Thursday night. Even as I was cringing and fearing the worst watching a tentative Gilbert out there -- who admitted to TNT's David Aldridge that he's hesitant to drive the ball because he's still skittish about contact -- I was also selfishly loving the sight of Arenas and Brendan Haywood in those Zephyrs throwbacks, enabling the Wiz to finally field a lineup worthy of scoring a 109-101 upset at home to halt the Cavs' 13-game win streak.

The cynical side of me still says that the Wiz have way too much to lose -- after Gil's three surgeries on his left knee in the space of a year-plus and the $111 million they've invested in him -- to let him play another minute this season and risk yet another setback.

But I can also make a further admission that a recent NBA.com piece from the seen-it-all Aldridge did finally give us the first meaty argument I've heard in favor of Arenas going through with this mini-comeback now.

The story recalls how my favorite player in high school -- Bernard King -- played the final six games of the 1986-87 season for the New York Knicks in similar circumstances after his own serious knee trouble. It recounts why the legendary King took such a seemingly needless gamble: King did it so he could have some summertime peace of mind that he'd be ready to go full speed the following October in training camp. Which is basically the same reason why we saw Arenas for 33 minutes against the Cavs, totaling 11 points and 10 assists in a game that won't annoy LeBron James nearly as much as the Jan. 4 loss to the Wiz when Arenas and Haywood were still weeks away from coming back.

The thinking is that if Arenas, 27, can get through a few outings in the season's final few weeks before all the attention shifts to the Wizards' forthcoming coaching search and lottery prospects, then (presumably) he won't be spending the offseason working himself into a trademark Gilbert lather, filling his head with anxieties after taking a full 82 games off.

As DA described it: "[King] played in what appeared to be six meaningless games at the end of the 1986-87 season. But they weren't meaningless. They gave King the confidence that all the months and months of solitary, painful rehab had paid off, that he was whole again ... King went on to play four solid seasons for Washington, including an All-Star season in 1990-91."

Cynicism and fear, though, are hard to shake, especially for us. So we can only hope for the sake of Wiz fans -- while they'd undoubtedly prefer to savor the best night of this lost season -- that history repeats itself.

Because Les Boulez, as the equally legendary Tony Kornheiser so lovingly referred to the Bullets on the pages of the Washington Post, didn't quite have $111 million on the line when King was mapping out Agent Zero's blueprint.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Dimes past: March 20 | 21-22 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28-29 | 30 | 31 | April 1 | 2

Wizards Turn the Tables On Cavaliers
By John Krolik | TrueHoop Network

Right about this time last year, the Cavaliers going to visit the Wizards meant an all-out war, a rivalry between two teams with evenly distributed talent and a refreshingly genuine dislike for one another. Together, they have produced dramatic finishes, violent play, Soulja Boy's 16th minute of fame, the sports world's introduction to the "I can't feel my face" gesture, and the most memorable traveling calls and non-calls in recent history.

But Thursday night's national showdown between the Cavaliers and the Wizards was supposed to be a coda on a story that the season had already written, two teams diverging from the middle of the pack to find themselves at the top and bottom of the league. But on this night, especially when it came down to brass tacks, the Wizards were eager to prove that when these two teams get out on the floor, everything you think you know about these teams becomes nothing more than background noise.

The Cavs came into the game as the best defensive team in the league, implementing Mike Brown's always solid defensive fundamentals with a renewed vigor, led by LeBron James' increased commitment on that end of the floor.

Meanwhile, the Wizards this season completely abandoned anything resembling defensive effort or discipline, alternating between apathetically watching their man get space on a screen and overzealously trying for a miracle steal or block.

On offense, the Cavaliers finally found the right set of players to complement James' unmatched abilities to take over a game, surrounding him with quality shooters, players who can move the ball, and players who can get to the rim. The result was one of the most dramatic makeovers in basketball, transforming the Cavs from a stagnant and dreary mess on that side of the floor to an effective drive-and-kick attack that ranks near the top of the league in offensive efficiency.

Meanwhile, the Wizards, hobbled by injuries to their collection of talented offensive players, have failed to find any cohesion, haphazardly stumbling down the court and deciding if a talented perimeter player would fire up a shot or a talented big man operating under the delusion he is a perimeter player would jack up a shot.

So why was it that, Thursday, it was the Wizards playing with effort and confident execution while Cleveland went through the motions and waited for Washington to give them the game?

No amount of effort from the Wizards was able to keep the Cavs from getting into the paint a good amount and ultimately shooting an impressive 47 percent, but every effort statistic went the way of the Wizards; they went to the line 30 times, while the Cavaliers attempted only 17 free throws. The Wizards shot only 10 3-pointers, while the Cavs were content to launch 30 of their 83 field-goal attempts from beyond the arc.

On every loose ball, there were white jerseys. When the Wizards came down the floor, they made tough moves to the basket. When the Cavs wanted to go to the hoop, there were bodies in between them and the basket.

When Detroit visited the Cavaliers earlier in the week, the Cavaliers were able to win the game mainly because Detroit didn't want it all that much, with the game having none of the intensity of their great playoff battles from years past. But in the Verizon Center Thursday, the people of Washington made it clear that this is a true rivalry.

It was clear that in Washington, where fans booed every time LeBron touched the ball and the Wizards played like the team with championship aspirations, when two rivals step out on the court, it doesn't matter what the teams have done before or what everyone else thinks they're supposed to do. Because above all else, rivalries don't take years off.

To read more from Krolik, check out his TrueHoop Network blog, "Cavs: The Blog."

Another Big Passing Night For D-Will In Denver
By Elias Sports Bureau

Deron Williams has had six consecutive games with at least 10 assists at Pepsi Center, including Thursday's game. The only other visitors with at least 10 assists in six straight games at Denver were Magic Johnson (8, 1982-1985) and John Stockton (6, 1988-1990).

•  Only two other teams in NBA history that were at least 40 games under .500 entering the game ended a winning streak of 10 or more games. The Bobcats (47 under) did it to the Pistons (11 games) in 2005; and the Mavericks (61 under) stopped the Rockets (11 games) in 1993.

•  More from Elias Sports Bureau



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Extreme Behavior
By Maurice Brooks

Washington Wizards: The team with the most losses in the league beat the team with the most wins in the league. This has got to be the highlight of the season for all Wizards fans.

Andrei Kirilenko, Jazz: The valuable reserve didn't provide much of an offensive spark off the bench against the Nuggets, going 1-for-10 from the floor on the way to a six-point night.

"We hope that this'll give people a bit of a preview of what we will be next year. It's what we thought we would be this year."

-- Wizards coach Ed Tapscott after his team shocked the league-leading Cavaliers

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J.R. Smith was in the zone, draining eight 3-pointers -- which is one short of the Denver franchise record for triples in a game -- as the Nuggets held off the Jazz, 114-104.

Individual Awards Fast Facts
By Chris Broussard | ESPN The Magazine

Here are a few facts to consider as you wonder who might win this season's individual awards:

Only one time in the last 30 years has a player been named MVP without his team winning at least 50 games. That was in 1982 when Moses Malone's Houston Rockets had just 46 victories. Interestingly, two of Malone's three MVP seasons came with fewer than 50 wins.
IMPLICATION: Don't expect Dwyane Wade to take home the hardware.

Only two guards in the last 20 years have won the Defensive Player of the Year award: Ron Artest in 2004 and Gary Payton in 1996.
IMPLICATION: Look for Dwight Howard to be the fifth straight shot-blocking big man to win the award.

In the last 50 years, there has been only one Rookie of the Year who was drafted outside of the top 10 -- Mark Jackson, the 18th pick of the New York Knicks in 1987.
IMPLICATION: There is none, unless you thought Courtney Lee was going to be the ROY.

Since 1979, only five coaches with the league's best record have been named Coach of the Year.
IMPLICATION: Mike Brown's outstanding job in Cleveland could go unrewarded in favor of, say, Miami's Erik Spoelstra.

How Is Life Without KG?
Celtics guard Ray Allen talks about how the team is dealing with the absence of Kevin Garnett.

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