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.

Blazers beat Lakers 97-81, tie Denver for final spot in West

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 22 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Los Angeles Lakers 97-81 on Sunday night to pull even with Denver in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Both the Blazers and Nuggets are 35-38 with nine games left in the regular season. They play each other Tuesday in Portland.

Denver lost at home to the New Orleans Pelicans earlier Sunday night.

Portland took control by outscoring the Lakers 37-24 in the third quarter and led by as many as 26 points. Los Angeles shot 39 percent from the field and was outrebounded 61-42.

Allen Crabbe added 18 points off the bench for the Blazers, and Noah Vonleh grabbed 14 rebounds.

D'Angelo Russell led the Lakers with 22 points, and reserve Tyler Ennis scored 14.

Portland led 40-32 at the break after an unsightly half in which the teams took turns struggling from the field. At halftime, both were shooting exactly 32.6 percent.

The Lakers won their previous game against the Timberwolves but have won consecutive games only once since mid-November.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Shot 62.4 percent against Minnesota on Saturday, their best mark since hitting 64.1 percent on March 12, 2003. Coming into Sunday, they had shot 50.6 percent over their last five games.

Lakers: Rookie forward Brandon Ingram, who started the previous 19 games and averaged 12.1 points on 48.4 percent shooting, did not play because of right patellar tendinitis. Said coach Luke Walton: “He was out there warming up and it’s not right.” Corey Brewer got his first start for the Lakers.

 

Watch Russell Westbrook drop a triple-double in epic battle with James Harden (VIDEO)

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HOUSTON (AP) Lou Williams scored 31 points off the bench, James Harden finished with 22 points and 12 assists, and the Houston Rockets never trailed while cruising to a 137-125 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

Russell Westbrook had 39 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists for his second straight triple-double and his 36th this season, but Harden led the Rockets to a 25-point lead through three quarters in the matchup between top MVP candidates.

Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon added 24 points apiece for the Rockets, whose lead was trimmed to eight on a 3-pointer by Westbrook with about 90 seconds left. The Rockets scored four quick points after that to secure the victory.

Harden left late in the game after crashing into the court and appearing to injure his left wrist but said in a TV interview he expected to be OK.

Houston jumped out to a 9-0 lead and was up by at least 20 for most of the game. It was a stark change from the first three games between these teams this season, which were decided by a combined seven points.

Williams made 11 of 15 shots, going 7 of 8 on 3-pointers. He didn’t miss a shot until his layup was blocked by Jerami Grant early in the fourth quarter.

Houston won its fourth straight overall and has won nine of their past 12 games against the Thunder.

The Rockets shot 71 percent in the first half, and Harden made a layup before grabbing a rebound and hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend Houston’s lead to 113-88 entering the fourth quarter.

The Thunder chipped away with a 12-4 run midway through the fourth quarter to get within 126-114 with 4 minutes left. Williams hit a 3-pointer after that to slow down the Thunder the team’s late run.

The Rockets had a 16-point lead in the third quarter before they used a 13-4 run to make it 108-83 with about 90 seconds left in the quarter. Williams had two 3-pointers in that stretch and a highlight came when Houston stripped the ball from Westbrook and Harden dished to Ariza, who finished with another 3. The run wrapped up with an alley-oop dunk from Harden to Clint Capela, but Capela received a technical on the play for hanging on the rim.

Mike D’Antoni received a technical seconds later for arguing that call.

Houston had built a 79-59 lead by halftime thanks in part to nearly perfect 3-point shooting by Trevor Ariza and Williams. Ariza made four of five attempts and had 16 points at the break, and Williams was a perfect 6 for 6 overall, with four 3-pointers to pile up 18 points in the first two quarters.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Victor Oladipo finished with 15 points. … Steven Adams and Alex Abrines scored 11 points apiece.

Rockets: Houston’s 79 points were the most the team has scored in a half this season. … Sunday was the 12th time this season where the Rockets had 100 points before the fourth quarter. … Williams had at least 20 points off the bench for the 29th time this season.

ANDERSON’S HEALTH

Houston’s Ryan Anderson will miss about two weeks after spraining his right ankle on Friday night against the Pelicans. D’Antoni hopes Anderson will recover in time to play the last couple of regular-season games and be at full strength for the start of the playoffs.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Visit Dallas on Monday.

Rockets: Host Golden State on Tuesday.

Watch every one of Jimmy Butler’s career-high 14 assists in win over Bucks (VIDEO)

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler seems to be thriving without backcourt teammate Dwyane Wade. On Sunday in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Butler dished out a career-high 14 assists to go along with 20 points, six rebounds, and three steals.

Butler, 27, helped Chicago to a 109-94 win over the Bucks. He looked good doing it, dropping dimes off of both the pick-and-roll and while coming off screens.

The NBA put together a handy little video to be able to check out all of Butler’s assists.

Clippers blow 18-point lead, lose in final 2 seconds on putback to Kings (VIDEO)

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The Los Angeles Clippers had a rough go of things against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. Up by 18 with more than five minutes to go, LA blew their lead and were left to watch as the Kings sealed the game late.

The final possession for Sacramento came on a missed corner 3-pointer by Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. The Kings got the outlet pass out on the rebound, but Ben McLemore took it to the rack and missed. That’s when Willie Cauley-Stein stepped in, cleaned up the board, and put the game-winning shot home with less than two seconds left.

Los Angeles lost in spectacular fashion, and became the only team this season to lose given their game situation.

Here’s a compilation the NBA put together of Sacramento’s epic comeback:

Meanwhile, Chris Paul called it the worst regular season loss of his career.

The Clippers peaked too soon. Like, the first 20 games of the season too soon.