A winless week has rarely been so exciting. Despite falling to a 6-19 record after a 0-3 week, the Washington Wizards overshadowed their lackluster play on the court with some major play outside the white lines.

In perhaps the biggest trade of the NBA season so far, the Wizards traded Gilbert Arenas to the Orlando Magic on Dec. 18 in exchange for small forward Rashard Lewis. Rumors of a possible Arenas-to-Orlando deal had been taking form since the early part of the summer, after John Wall was drafted. But the team finally pulled the trigger and said goodbye to the last remaining piece of the old Wizards trio of Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler.

“I think it was time for a change,” Wizards president Ernie Grunfield said during a press conference. “This will be a good opportunity for him to go down to Orlando and revitalize his career.”

Despite the news, the Wizards still had to face the reality of a seven-game losing streak capped by another disappointing week.

In a trip to California just a few days prior to their Dec. 14 rematch, Washington played tough against the Los Angeles Lakers. But the Lakers were well prepared for the second go-around, outscoring the Wizards 70-46 in the second and third quarters en route to a 103-89 victory. Operating without guard Wall (knee) and forward/center Andray Blatche (knee), Washington was dealt another blow when forward Yi Jianlian went down in the first quarter with a sprained knee. The Wizards received just 43 points from their starters but did witness another assault on the Sixth Man of the Year award by reserve guard Nick Young, who led the team with 21 points off the bench.

With Wall and Blatche still sidelined, the Wizards trailed by as many as 23 points on the road against the New Jersey Nets on Dec. 16 but clawed back to tie the game 75-75 in the middle of the fourth quarter. Perhaps winded from fighting back, Washington allowed New Jersey to score the next six points as the home team held on for a 97-89 victory. The loss handed the Wizards their 13th consecutive road loss as Young once again led the team in scoring with 22 points off the bench. In what turned out to be his last game as a Wizard, Arenas scored 19 points and added nine assists in the defeat.

One week before Christmas, the Wizards endured a frantic day on Dec. 18. Around lunchtime the club moved Arenas, welcomed guard/forward Josh Howard and Blatche back into the lineup just before the game, and hosted the red-hot Miami Heat that night. Wall was out and Arenas was gone, but the returns of Blatche and Howard added up to a draining nail-biter for the home crowd at the Verizon Center.

Washington led by four points with just 17 seconds left in the game, but an untimely collapse granted the Heat their 12th-straight win in a 95-94 thriller. The Wizards missed three of six free throws and turned the ball over on an inbound pass in the waning seconds as Washington guard Kirk Hinrich’s failed desperation drive ended a heartbreaking night.

“We did everything wrong to lose the game and they did everything right,” Washington Coach Flip Saunders said after the game.

Making his start in place of the newly departed Arenas, Young excelled, tying a season-high with 30 points. The Wizards will return the Verizon Center on Dec. 20 for a home date with the Charlotte Bobcats.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO