WASHINGTON (AP) -Put the Hibachi in storage. Gilbert Arenas is essentially done for the season.
The Washington Wizards point guard was scheduled for surgery Thursday for a left knee injury that will sideline him for two to three months. Even the most optimistic scenario has him coming back only if his team manages to make the NBA finals without him.
“It’s pretty much down,” said guard DeShawn Stevenson, assessing the mood of the locker room following Thursday’s practice. “But at the same time we are a playoff team. We have to worry about the playoffs and winning games.”
Arenas was diagnosed with a lateral meniscus tear and was to have arthroscopic surgery at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington. He was injured in the first quarter of Wednesday night’s 108-100 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats.
Arenas, who averaged 28.4 points and six assists, was always coming up with a new catch phrase. The best ones were his nickname – Agent Zero – and “Hibachi!” which he would yell when shooting his jumper.
“It’s an unfortunate incident,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “As coaches in the NBA you have to be prepared for what one of my old coaches use to call ‘thunderbolts.’ And I think we are prepared.”
Thunderbolts, indeed. The Wizards have lost both of their All-Stars to injuries in less than a week. Caron Butler broke a bone in his hand in Sunday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks and is out for six weeks.
As a result, the Wizards are stumbling to the finish of what was a very promising season only two months ago. They lost back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday to the lottery-bound Bobcats and have fallen behind the Miami Heat in the race for the Southeast Division title.
The Wizards began the season confidently, declaring the Eastern Conference finals as their goal. When Butler went down, they still hoped to rally around Arenas – even though they are 2-9 this season when Butler doesn’t play.
“It’s very difficult, to lead a conference and be the best team, and then all of a sudden injuries kind of plague the team,” captain Antawn Jamison said. “But it’s basketball. It’s not the first time this has ever happened. It’s just difficult for us because we were on the brink of doing something special as far as contending for the best record and really making some noise. Not to say that is too far-fetched now, but the identity of the team is totally different.”
With Arenas gone, Antonio Daniels will run the team like a true point guard, and Jamison, Stevenson, Etan Thomas, Jarvis Hayes, Darius Songaila and others will have to find ways to compensate for the 47.5 points combined averaged by Arenas and Butler – both of whom also played nearly 40 minutes per game.
“The bottom line is you can’t reinvent the wheel in April,” Jordan said. “You stay with your system, but you shift the gears. You shift the focus to what your strength is now. Not Gil, not Caron, but now to Antawn and to Etan.”
Arenas had dubbed this season “The Takeover,” and for a while he was as good as his word. He dropped 60 on the Los Angeles Lakers, 54 on Phoenix and was named Eastern Conference player of the month for December. He leads the NBA with 35 30-point games.
The combined success of Arenas and the Wizards, along with his flamboyant self-marketing savvy, propelled him into another level of stardom. He made the All-Star game for the third consecutive year, but this was the first time he was voted by the fans as a starter.
Arenas started every game for the Wizards until Wednesday night, when he was benched at the opening tip-off for being late for a shootaround earlier in the day.
Arenas entered the game late in the first quarter and was injured less than two minutes later, when Charlotte’s Gerald Wallace inadvertently crashed into Arenas after an off-balance reverse layup. Arenas’ knee bent the wrong way, much like that of a quarterback who has been hit low by a rushing lineman.
“Once he found out the severity of the injury, it kind of shellshocked him a little bit,” Jamison said. “It’s hard because of the type of year he was having, and the playoffs were coming upon us and we all know Gilbert – he loves the playoffs and the limelight and things like that.”
It is the first significant injury for Arenas since an abdominal strain sidelined him for 27 games during the 2003-04 season. He missed only two games each of the last two seasons.
Arenas finishes the regular season with 2,105 points, becoming the franchise’s first player since Walt Bellamy to score more than 2,000 points in three consecutive seasons.
“For our players right now, this could be a shining moment,” Jordan said. “It’s a shining moment for the coaches also. When your two best players are down, you’re coaching a team now that has to move forward.”
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