Arenas stays cautious on return to Wizards

Guard eager to get back but has no desire to make fourth trip to injured list

January 23, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - If you didn't know better, you'd swear Gilbert Arenas is on the Washington Wizards' active roster, because he is around the team, bounding around MCI Center with the energy of a colt and holding court with anyone who will listen.

It's only on game nights, when Arenas is in street clothes and the Wizards are without his 18.2 points, five rebounds and endless energy, that his absence is acutely felt.

"It's really hard sitting out there and watching, when I know I could be out there, and seeing some of the players on the opposite team being cocky," Arenas said. "That hurts my feelings a little bit."

Arenas, who suffered a severe abdominal strain in a loss on Nov. 23 in Seattle, is on his third stint on the injured list with the same ailment.

In his first stay, Arenas, who wore his road jersey on the bench during home games, missed eight games, returning for one contest - a Dec. 12 game against Minnesota, when he scored just nine points in 24 minutes - before going back on the injured list.

The second stay lasted seven games, and he returned with a nine-point, nine-rebound effort against Golden State, the team he left for a six-year, $64 million free-agent contract with Washington.

The third-year guard played four more games, shooting a combined 25-for-75, before returning to the injured list.

"That's the frustrating part because I'm better than what I've been showing," said Arenas, who is shooting 38 percent from the field for the season.

"Unfortunately, I'm hurt with an injury that does affect how I play and the speed that I show. It's frustrating, but I'm going to have a chance in the second half. That's why I'm willing to wait."

Indeed, unlike the first two times, when Arenas apparently came back before the strain was healed, this stay on the injured list is meant to take hold.

With the prodding of the club, Arenas, who has missed six games this time, will sit out until he and team officials are convinced he can return and play without aggravating the strain.

"I'm better than I was the first two times," Arenas said earlier this week. "I could play now and be better than I was those first two times, but I'm going to sit and wait, just in case. I just don't want to be sitting at the end of the season."

The target for Arenas' return is a game on Feb. 17 in Houston.

By then, the Wizards will have completed a seven-game homestand, which begins Saturday night against Indiana, and should have an idea whether the second portion of the season will be a push for the playoffs or a matter of playing out the string.

Besides, by then, guard Jerry Stackhouse may have returned from his season-long stay on the injured list with a knee injury and given Washington's offense that much more oomph.

"It's hard to grade a team where all the players are hurt, especially key players," Arenas said.

"Larry [Hughes] is hurting with tendinitis in his knee. Stack is coming back, probably the same time I am, so, in the second half of the season you'll see what we could have shown at the beginning because of all the injuries."

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