WASHINGTON (AP) -Meet the new low-key Gilbert Arenas. Doesn't start. Doesn't talk. Doesn't blog. Doesn't try to take over the game. Doesn't even predict that he's going to.
It's as if Agent Zero has discovered an alter ego. So far, the Washington Wizards have no complaints.
``I think he's just here to play basketball now and not to talk about it,'' coach Eddie Jordan said. ``It probably should be that way right now. I think he's going to let his game do his talking. ... We're all happy about it.''
The Wizards and their fans have become so accustomed to Arenas' outrageous pronouncements that the silence is eerie.
The three-time All-Star made a quick exit from the locker room following Wednesday night's victory over the Boston Celtics as soon as reporters entered, carrying his street clothes over his shoulder so that could change in another room. All he would say is that he isn't going to talk again for the rest of the regular season. Maybe, just maybe, he'll open up for the playoffs.
Arenas' popular blog on the NBA's official Web site is stuck in time, the last entry dated March 25. The essay is typical way-out-there Arenas, including a passage in which he says he contemplated ramming his car into a pole because he had not been cleared to play following knee surgery.
After he was cleared to play, Arenas told reporters he wasn't going to make his return in a game against Milwaukee the following day. Arenas being Arenas, he did play, ending a 66-game absence. Mum's been the word ever since.
Why is he silent? Only Arenas knows for sure, but it's a matter of record that he doesn't take criticism well, and he received a lot of it following the game against the Bucks.
Arenas didn't work out with the team before the game, didn't bother to tell Jordan he was going to play until a few minutes before tipoff - through a third party, no less - and didn't show up on the bench until midway through the first quarter.
Members of the Wizards organization, from president Ernie Grunfeld on down, defended what looked to be a show of disrespect toward the coaching staff, yet it would be hard to imagine such behavior being tolerated from, say, Andray Blatche or Brendan Haywood.
Arenas looked understandably rusty during the game and blew a defensive assignment on the shot that won the game for Milwaukee at the buzzer. He's played in three games since coming back - limited to 20-24 minutes off the bench - and has looked better each time.
His shot wasn't falling Wednesday night against the Celtics - 5-for-14 with 13 points - but he twice passed up easy fast-break layups to let a teammate have the glory. He finished with three assists and four steals in 24 minutes. At no point did he look ready to scream ``Hibachi,'' as he did when he was hitting game-winners last season.
``He's getting there,'' captain Antawn Jamison said. ``Anytime you see Gil probing and really being aggressive, going to the lane and knocking people over, you know he feels comfortable. He's not going away from contact. I think the first game or two, he normally would have gone in there and drawn some contact, but he was kind of hesitant. I think he's turned the curve.''
There are many hurdles in returning from a major knee injury. Arenas needs to get his conditioning back. He needs to re-mesh with a team that has become used to playing at the pace set by All-Stars Jamison and Caron Butler. He needs to learn to trust the knee and believe that it really has healed, a tenuous intangible given that the surgery in November was required because he rushed his rehabilitation from another operation on the same knee last April.
``He won't be Gil until next October,'' Jordan said.
That means Arenas will remain a substitute for the foreseeable future, a role player who can add quite a bit of spark during the upcoming playoffs.
``I always laugh when people say they're better without him. Are you kidding me?'' Boston coach Doc Rivers said. ``Gilbert Arenas is a matchup problem every night, whether he starts or off the bench. He probably creates a bigger one coming off the bench.''
The Wizards have won three straight as they chase Cleveland for homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
``Gilbert's the difference,'' Jordan said. ``We've been satisfied to a degree how we've been playing without Gil ... but it's very exciting to have him out there. It makes us an exciting team, a dangerous team, and right now it would be hard to play without him.''

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