Gilbert Arenas runs.

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gilbert_arenas.jpgA scrapbook of last season will not be found on Gilbert Arenas’ coffee table. The games Arenas didn’t play were marked by endless criticism, judgment, and legal trouble. Those that he did were plagued by inefficient scoring, disinterested defense, and team-wide disappointment. There were few moments, if any, fit for the refrigerator, as Arenas’ (and the Wizards’) ’09-’10 season was a failure in almost every regard.

Things have changed. John Wall has a tendency to bring everyone’s attention to the front of the room, far away from the dark hallway they used to enter it. Wall’s arrival, combined with Ted Leonsis’ enthusiasm and a fair amount of roster turnover, has Wizards fans looking anywhere but behind them, regardless of how miserable last season was for the franchise and its followers.

Wall’s great hope doesn’t heal all wounds, though. Forget about the locker room nightmare, finger guns, and the aftermath of it all if you will, but even casting a blind eye to those events doesn’t make Arenas the player he used to be. The Gilbert we saw in 32 games for the Wiz last year was undeniably different than the one who tore up the league from 2004-2007, at least in part because of Arenas’ multiple knee surgeries.

Not that all blame can be placed on his bum knee. Gil’s ineffectiveness went far beyond his slower first step or his hindered lift. The difference in Gilberts new and old isn’t the easiest thing to fully explain, but to see Arenas on the court last season was to see a knock-off of the Agent Zero original; he may look basically the same and fulfill the same basic functions, but he’ll never have the same grandeur.

That is, unless the knee really is somehow the key to all of Arenas’ troubles. Maybe a healthier Gilbert is a happier Gilbert? And a happier Gilbert a transcendent one? It’s worth a moment’s thought, improbable though it may be.

If somehow that is the case, then Michael Lee of the Washington Post comes bearing good news:

Seemingly taking a cue from Mike Shanahan and Albert Haynesworth, Flip Saunders is requiring every player to pass a conditioning exam before participating in training camp in two weeks. Saunders wants the Wizards to be a running team next season, so he is making his players run four sets of 10 full-court sprints, with 2 ½ minute breaks between each set. Guards have to complete each set in an average aggregate time of 57 seconds.

Arenas may have been less than enthusiastic about playing for the Wizards several months ago, but guess who was the first player to complete the conditioning exam? Yep, Arenas. According to a league source, he finished the first set in 42 seconds.

In all likelihood, Lee’s report doesn’t mean all that much. The problem was never that Arenas was too slow to be effective in the NBA at all, just that the speed taken by multiple knee surgeries prevented him from ever matching his own high-scoring standards. Still, it’s good to know that Gil is in something resembling basketball shape, and that his knee doesn’t limit him from acing Saunders’ test.

It seems unlikely that we’ll see Gilbert perform at an elite level ever again. That’s the threshold through which Arenas can’t return. He can still bounce back from his poor decision-making, even if his locker-room-gag-gone-wrong will forever haunt his Wikipedia page. That much can be pushed aside, provided he can be valuable on the court once again.

Perhaps Arenas’ knee is better than ever, and his new role alongside John Wall is ideal for his talents. That would be wonderful. A re-imagined Arenas could (and likely will) do a lot of good for the Wizards this coming season, and for the franchise as a whole. Yet there’s still a tombstone marked ‘Hibachi,’ or ‘Agent Zero,’ or whichever of his many monikers you prefer, standing to signify the end of the player we once knew.

Thunder beat Pelicans; teams mourn Ingrid Williams’ death

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Basketball didn’t matter much to Kevin Durant on Thursday night.

Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams’ wife, Ingrid, was involved in a car crash Tuesday night in Oklahoma City and died Wednesday. Monty Williams coached the Pelicans last season before coming to Oklahoma City to help new coach Billy Donovan, so as his two most recent teams met, both played with heavy hearts. A moment of silence was observed before the Thunder’s 121-95 victory.

Durant was distraught earlier in the day while discussing the situation after the team’s shootaround, and he said it remained fresh in his mind after the game.

“We love the game so much, but that’s not really what’s important,” Durant said. “It’s definitely something that we love to do, but relationships, family – those things – that’s what’s most important in life, not the latest trends or the fashion world or all that stuff. It’s cool and all that stuff, but the stuff that lasts forever is relationships, family and love.”

Donovan wasn’t sure how his team would deal with all that happened. Durant scored 23 points, Russell Westbrook had 23 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, and Serge Ibaka added 18 points.

“I really appreciated all of our guys, the way they all have handled a really difficult situation these past 24 hours and being able to go out and play,” Donovan said.

Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday each scored 23 points for the Pelicans. Davis, who was emotional on Twitter after learning of the death, still was disappointed in the way the Pelicans played.

“We’ve got to go out there and still compete,” he said. “Go out there and play. We had a job to do tonight.”

Oklahoma City has won 14 of 16 heading into the All-Star break to join Golden State and San Antonio as the only teams with at least 40 wins. The Thunder don’t feel much needs to change to compete for the title.

“No switch-up, just enhance and get better at what we do.”

The Thunder led 62-53 at halftime behind 18 points from Westbrook and 17 from Durant.

Westbrook got his 10th assist on Ibaka’s 3-pointer that gave the Thunder a 79-65 lead. He had his ninth rebound with just under 3 minutes to go in the third quarter before heading to the bench for his usual rest and the Thunder ahead 86-68. Oklahoma City led 95-74 at the end of the third quarter.

Oklahoma City’s backups expanded the lead early in the fourth quarter, and Westbrook didn’t return.

“I don’t know what we can take out of it other than we competed like crazy in the first half,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Tried like crazy in the second half, but when they got separation, it was really difficult.”

The Thunder found an escape from pain through playing.

“Basketball, the effect it has, it allows you to forget about things a little bit, and it also brings you together as a group,” Durant said. “Thankful for that.”

 

TIP-INS

Pelicans: Shot 53.5 percent from the field in the first half, but just 43.2 percent for the game. … Were outrebounded 50-31 … Committed just nine turnovers. … Norris Cole scored 15 points.

Thunder: Shot 52.3 percent from the field. … Thunder G Andre Roberson remained out with a right knee sprain. … Anthony Morrow scored 10 points. … Enes Kanter finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds.

 

Bucks go into All-Star break with 99-92 win over Wizards

MILWAUKEE, WI - FEBRUARY 11: Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks drives to the hoop for two points during the first quarter against the Washington Wizards at BMO Harris Bradley Center on February 11, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption *** Khris Middleton
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored 27 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and the Milwaukee Bucks held off the Washington Wizards 99-92 on Thursday night.

Middleton scored 14 points in the final quarter, giving the Wizards trouble off the dribble and from the perimeter.

Washington got within three when John Wall made two free throws with 1:36 left. But Middleton answered again, hitting a jumper in the lane on the next possession before setting up a drive-and-dish to Greg Monroe that gave the Bucks a 97-90 lead with 15 seconds left. Middleton tied a season high with nine assists.

Bradley Beal scored 19 points for the Wizards, and Wall had 15 points and 10 assists.

The Wizards go into the All-Star break 3-7 in their last 10 games.

The Bucks will take a modest but badly-needed two-game winning streak into the break. At 22-32, Milwaukee needs to inch back closer to .500 before it can start thinking about making a run at a second straight playoff appearance.

At least the Bucks gained confidence from the win after the lead see-sawed much of the night against Washington.

Sparked by better defense, the Wizards rallied from an 11-point deficit late in the second quarter to turn it into a tight contest after halftime.

Milwaukee used a 25-5 surge in an eight-minute span to help build a 55-44 lead with 45 seconds left in the second quarter. Jabari Parker scored 12 points during that quarter, when the Bucks made their run using primarily a three-guard lineup that attacked with the ball.

Middleton made the clutch plays in the end to spark the win.

TIP-INS

Washington: Wall had his 30th double-double of the season. … The Wizards went 0 of 10 from the field with three turnovers during the Bucks’ second-quarter run.

Milwaukee: Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry is taking part in the All-Star celebrity game Friday in Toronto. Asked before the game if the boss was ready, coach Jason Kidd said with a straight face: “That’s a very good question. We’ll see if he needs the asthma inhaler.” … O.J. Mayo was assessed a flagrant foul after Washington’s Otto Porter Jr. fell hard to the floor on a layup attempt with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

 

Report: Some Warriors executives believe Golden State will sign Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant (35) loses the ball next to Golden State Warriors' Marreese Speights during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors won 116-108. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)
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An NBA general manager reportedly believes Kevin Durant will sign with the Warriors.

That general manager, unless it was Bob Myers in the first place, has company.

Chris Broussard of ESPN on Durant:

There are people in Golden State that think they’re getting him.

People in management, and I think some players, too.

Blind optimism? Definitely possible.

Echo-chamber participation? Totally conceivable.

Genuine insight? Also believable.

It’s that last possibility that makes this so intriguing. Durant has reportedly researched the Bay Area, and why shouldn’t that include back-channel talks between his people and the Warriors? Golden State definitely could have legitimate reason to believe Durant is coming.

One reason this is so important: The Warriors don’t have enough cap space to re-sign Durant. What lengths they’ll travel to clear it depends on their perceived odds of signing him.

Whether or not Golden State actually gets Durant – count me in the camp that believes he hasn’t made a decision – this belief he’ll sign with the Warriors could definitely influence the rest of their offseason and maybe even smaller moves before the trade deadline.

Shaq, Yao, Iverson look to take next step to Hall of Fame

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 25:  Yao Ming #11 of the Houston Rockets posts up Shaquille O'Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers on December 25, 2003 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Rockets won 99-87.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) Shaquille O’Neal should be a lock. Yao Ming and Allen Iverson could join him.

Two larger-than-life big men and one of basketball’s most exciting little guys highlight the list of players, coaches and contributors who are eligible for induction this year into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

O’Neal and Iverson must get past an extra step by first being chosen as finalists Friday at a press conference during the NBA’s All-Star weekend festivities. If they do, they would then require 18 votes from the 24-member Honors Committee, as do all nominees from the North American and Women’s Committees.

But Yao was nominated by the Hall’s International Committee, recognized as much for his impact in the growth of basketball in his native China as his play in the NBA. That committee elects players directly to the Hall.

The class of 2016 will be unveiled April 4 in Houston on the day of the NCAA championship game, and the enshrinement ceremony is set for Sept. 9 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

O’Neal, Yao and Iverson earned a chance to be a part of it after a recent rule change that made players eligible for nomination after four full seasons of retirement. Previously, they had to wait five years, which meant they were actually six years removed from their playing days by the time they could take their place in the birthplace of basketball.

O’Neal won four NBA championships, an MVP award and is in the league’s top 10 in career scoring. Iverson, just 6-feet tall, won four scoring titles and was the league’s MVP in 2001, when his 48-performance for Philadelphia in Game 1 of the NBA Finals handed O’Neal’s Lakers their only loss of the most dominant postseason in NBA history.

Yao doesn’t have as impressive a resume, his career cut short by multiple foot injuries. But the 7-foot-6 center lasted long enough to make an enormous impact on and off the court after being selected No. 1 overall in 2002.

A look at some others who could be Springfield-bound in September:

JERRY KRAUSE: On the 20th anniversary of the Chicago Bulls compiling the best record in NBA history, perhaps it’s time to honor the executive who was one of the architects of the six-time champions?

TOM IZZO: The way he consistently gets his Michigan State teams to peak in March, don’t be surprised if he’s got a game to coach in Houston when the class he should be in appears during Final Four weekend.

SHERYL SWOOPES: The first player signed by the WNBA went on to win three MVP awards and four championships in the league, but it was her 47-point performance in leading Texas Tech to the 1993 NCAA championship that many think of first when talking about one of the greats of women’s basketball.

MARV ALBERT: Already a Hall of Famer as a broadcaster, Albert, like Krause, is now nominated by the Contributor Committee that directly elects to the Hall. Should he be honored again? As Albert might exclaim while calling a game, “YES!!”

DARELL GARRETSON: He officiated more than 2,000 games in the NBA and spent 17 years as the league’s chief of officiating. There aren’t many easy calls for referees, but this seems an easy call about one.