Rare 29 points from Arenas help Wizards win Saunders' debut

DALLAS -- Gilbert Arenas is a man of few words these days. He's good for a bunch of points and assists, though, and the Washington Wizards will gladly take that.

Finally healthy after two seasons virtually lost to knee injuries, Arenas had 29 points and nine assists as the Wizards took an early lead over the revamped Dallas Mavericks and never let go on their way to a 102-91 victory Tuesday night.

"I felt fine," said Arenas, who was practically forced to speak after he and the team were fined $25,000 each for his silence during the preseason. "I did fine."


Arenas shot 10 of 21 and made 8-of-9 free throws for more points than he had all of last season. Then again, he played only two games last season. He played just 13 the year before, and this was his most points since Nov. 14, 2007. Thanks to his leadership, the Wizards dug out of an early hole and never trailed over the last three quarters, making a winner out of Flip Saunders in his debut as Washington's coach.

"He did his talking on the floor," Saunders said. "Gil showed glimpses of why he's got 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. He had 29 points and nine assists so I think that anyone that had questions about where he's at ... He's just going to continue to get better and better."

Feeling so good he doesn't even wear a brace, Arenas was as effective hitting long jumpers over tall defenders as he was driving the lane. His vintage baskets included scooting around a guard, switching hands and scooping in a layup between two big guys, and another where he sped past three players and swirled the ball around to clear room for another layup.

The assists included several nifty passes that set up Brendan Haywood for dunks. He also helped set up reserves Andray Blatche for 20 points and Randy Foye for 19 in his first game with the Wizards. Caron Butler added 16 points, with injured forward Antawn Jamison watching from the bench. He's likely to miss the first eight to 13 games because of a shoulder injury.

"It's a win," Arenas said. "If we want to be good, we've got to win on the road. It feels great, but it's just one."

The Mavs sure hope this is only one aberration, not a repeat of their 2-7 start that including losing their first four home games last season.

With the arrival of Shawn Marion and several others, Dallas is supposed to be deeper and more versatile, even while Josh Howard and Tim Thomas are getting over injuries.

But the Mavericks fell into the old habit of trying to ride a big night by Dirk Nowitzki. He scored 34 points, but was only 10 of 25. He was 12 of 13 from the foul line -- all in the first half.

"He would be dead by Christmas if we're going to let him be the offense," said Jason Kidd, who had four points, six rebounds and six assists. "Our team defense stunk. We didn't rebound the ball well. Everything we're supposed to do well was a no-show tonight."

Marion made his first three shots, all in the first quarter, then didn't score again until the opening basket of the fourth quarter. That got Dallas within a point, but Arenas and the Wizards pulled away.

"It seemed like one moment we had something going, the next moment we couldn't get over the hump," said Marion, who had 16 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. "It's just a learning curve."

J.J. Barea scored 13 points and Jason Terry was 4 of 15 for 12 points. Newcomer Drew Gooden made only 1 of 6 shots for two points.

Before tipoff of the 30th season in Dallas history, Marion told the crowd: "We're going to take you on a long journey. Enjoy the ride."

Game notes
This was the 318th straight sellout, the longest in the NBA. ... Mavs owner Mark Cuban said Howard (ankle, wrist surgery) should return within two weeks. ... Washington's DeShawn Stevenson missed a pair of free throws in the final minute of the first half, but picked up a loose ball and nailed a 30-footer at the buzzer. It was called good, but erased after a replay. ... The season began with a jazzy national anthem, courtesy of pianist Bruce Hornsby and a drummer. Hornsby is buddies with Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who turned 50 Tuesday. Hornsby didn't sing "Happy Birthday," at least not from the piano at midcourt.