Denton: Knee Issues Still Slowing Arenas

By John Denton
January 29, 2011


ORLANDO – As Gilbert Arenas used one hand to pull his right ankle up out of a bucket of ice and the other hand to untangle a heavy wrap around his left knee he let out a groan that could be heard throughout the Orlando Magic’s mostly silent locker room.

If Arenas, now 29 years old, needs any reminder that he’s no longer the carefree and blazingly quick point guard that he used to be all he has to do is look around at the piles of icepacks, bandages and lineaments that usually surround him following games.

On Friday night, Arenas replaced an injured Jameer Nelson – who left the game with a similarly achy right knee – and he had to face Chicago superstar point guard Derrick Rose, who is seven years his junior. In many ways, Rose seems to be a 2011 version of the point guard artist formerly known as Arenas – blindingly fast from end to end, adept at dribbling well enough to navigate any trap and fearless while attacking the rim.

As for Arenas, he was left with a 99-90 Magic loss to the Bulls and more questions about the health of his surgically repaired and troublesome left knee. His explosive bursts come now in brief flashes instead of relentless streaks, and many nights Arenas never knows what he will get from his push-off leg because of the stiffness and aches in his left knee. It can be as tricky, Arenas stressed, as the weather.

``The thing with my knee is the weather,’’ Arenas said with a nervous chuckle. ``Mostly, December is my bad month. From February to October and November, that’s when I usually don’t feel any pain, no soreness and achiness. But I feel sore from little things like the change in pressures. So flying from Orlando to Indiana, it’s stiff the whole time. Coming here (to Chicago), there was no pain, so I have no idea from night to night.’’

A reserve with the Magic since the Dec. 18 trade that brought him from the Washington Wizards to the Magic, Arenas could be pushed into a starting role Sunday night when the Magic (30-17) host Cleveland (8-38) at Amway Center. The Cavs are on a historically bad stretch, losing 19 consecutive games and suffering through the worst 30-game stretch (1-29) in NBA history.

Nelson left Friday’s game in Chicago after seven minutes because of a strain and troublesome tendinitis in his right knee. He said he hoped to be back by Sunday, but the noticeably limp he had late Friday as he left the locker room didn’t look promising. Arenas could start, but Magic head coach Stan van Gundy said he wasn’t going to worry about the uncertainty at the position.

``I sort of worry about the things that I can control and I don’t worry about the things that I can’t control. (Nelson) will either be able to play or he won’t,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Our defense worries me, our lack of competiveness in the third quarter worries me and our lack of ball movement worries me. As far as who will be healthy enough to play, they’ll tell me and then we’ll play the guys who are healthy.’’

The ``healthy’’ diagnosis with Arenas comes with a qualifier. He’s almost two years removed from a series of knee surgeries that robbed him of most of all of three seasons, but clearly he isn’t all the way back yet.

Magic general manager Otis Smith, who took the risk of trading for Arenas despite him still being owed $62 million, said that getting Arenas’ explosiveness back could be a lengthy process. The Magic have demanded that Arenas get back on a strict rehabilitation program to strengthen his legs.

``In Washington, he wasn’t doing much at all with his rehab for the knee,’’ Smith said. ``But he’s working a lot more now on strengthening the muscles in the leg and around the knee. But if he stops working on it, it locks up on him.’’

Magic superstar center Dwight Howard has become close friends with Arenas since his arrival in Orlando predicts that the point guard will eventually get his conditioning right and become a dynamic playmaker once again.

``He hasn’t had a great opportunity to do all the things that he wants to do, but it’ll come with time,’’ Howard said. ``I think once his knee gets a lot better, he’ll be better. He’s playing on one leg right now. Once he gets the other leg straight, I think we’ll see a new Gilbert.’’

The Gilbert that the Magic have now seems to be one who is doubting himself and missing the trademark swagger that made him a All-NBA performer in Washington. In 21 games with the Magic, Arenas has averaged just 8.5 points on just 36.7 percent shooting and 30.3 percent shooting from 3-point range.

And on Friday night – his most extensive playing time since the trade because of the Nelson injury – Arenas struggled to find his stroke. He drilled two shots early in the fourth period, but couldn’t keep it going on a five-of-13, 11-point night.

But even more troubling than the shooting woes was the fact that Arenas chose to blend in rather than take charge. He was upset with himself for letting the Magic get away from the pick-and-roll game plan. And he wasn’t in attack mode when he started the second half and the Magic were thumped 34-17 in the third period.

``It took an adjustment (starting the second half instead of coming off the bench) because they’re used to playing a certain way at the beginning of the third and I was just out there trying to stay out of everybody’s way a little bit,’’ Arenas said. ``I hit two shots and I was feeling good and then a couple just rattled out. But offensively we never really had it going. There was miscommunication on screen-and-rolls. We came in with a game plan to run pick-and-rolls and at a certain point in the game we just stopped. That’s my fault and I have to relay the message to everyone that we have to get back to the game plan.’’

Arenas said that while he’s had his troubles with his knee and adjusting to Van Gundy’s hands-on coaching style he’s confident that he can finish this season with a flurry. He is still of the belief that both he and the Magic will start clicking by playoff time and do great things this season.

``I’m trying to stay upbeat. You can’t shoot and struggle all of the time and eventually (shots) are going to stop dropping. Eventually, I’ll get my legs where I can get to the basket,’’ Arenas said. ``I’ve been getting to the basket more than I did when I first got here. Once I get it all going, we’ll have it all going and we’ll have a great combination with me coming off the sideline and being in attack mode.

``Right now, (the Bulls) are three games ahead of us so we’re the underdogs. But we still have a lot of the season left to get our stride,’’ Arenas continued. ``You really don’t want to be playing your best right now; you want to be playing your best in the playoffs. Like the Green Bay Packers, they didn’t play their best until the end of the season and now they’re in the Super Bowl. We have a lot of work to get done and we’re going to get it done.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.