Friday, February 4, 2011, 11:32 p.m.
By Ryan OHalloran
Just as he envisioned, Gilbert Arenas received a smattering of boos when he took the floor late in the first quarter of his ballyhooed return to Verizon Center as a member of the Orlando Magic.
But he also received cheers during the Magics 110-92 win over the Wizards Friday night.
I expected to be booed some, he said after he scored 10 points in 24-plus minutes of action. Im glad I got cheered. It just shows that people understand it was one year, one bad mistake and you cant erase seven good years.
That bad mistake playing with guns in an NBA locker room accelerated Arenas exit from Washington, where he once had his likeness on the side of the arena and was one of the areas most popular athletes.
But in a sign that Wizards fans have moved on, many in the crowd of 18,940 showed general indifference when Arenas entered the game.
They sat on their hands.
J.J. Redick got booed more than Arenas.
Arenas Wizards No. 0 jerseys were difficult to locate.
And only one hand-made sign We Still Love You Gil! could be spotted around the bench area.
All of which was fine with Arenas, traded to Orlando earlier this season.
Arenas said he wasnt anxious to see what kind of reception he would receive. That disappeared in the preseason, when still a member of the Wizards, he was greeted warmly during his first games after the gun suspension.
Once I started playing at the beginning of the year, that went away, Arenas said.
Now away from the Wizards, Arenas seems genuinely excited to be with Orlando.
Although hes not starting and shooting below 40 percent, this is the first time hes playing for a legitimate contender (the Magic are 32-19) and he doesnt have the beau-coup pressure heaped on his shoulders.
We have a lot of weapons, Redick said. Its not like Gil has to average 26, 27 points a game. He doesnt have to be that Gilbert, but we do need him to be aggressive and make plays.
Arenas didnt shoot well (4 of 12) but he was on the floor down the stretch because he was making plays without scoring. He had six assists, six rebounds, two assists and his defense kept Nick Young in check (7 of 20).
Whereas with Washington he was often handed minutes never fewer than a 30-minute average in a season Arenas realizes a new team means a new role. Dwight Howard is the alpha male on the Magic and other players have winning experience. Arenas entered the game averaging 21 minutes a game.
I wasnt going to be given minutes so I have to earn them, he said. As long as Im on that court, Im happy and if Im not, Im cheering for my team. Im on a contender so I dont see as many minutes so I have to keep my head in it.
Coach Stan Van Gundy praised Arenas defensive effort against Young.
Defensively, he was fabulous, said Van Gundy, who then quipped: I dont know how many times a coach has stood here and said that about him.
Arenas wasnt surprised he had Youngs number.
I was playing defense against somebody I taught every move to, Arenas said. I got in Nicks head last week. He never scores on me and he already knew what was going to happen. I didnt do anything different I did in practice and he never scored on me in practice.
Said Young: He was talking to me throughout the game but I really didnt hear too much I was keeping my focus. He came in as regular Gil, doing what he does best with us but we tried to look past it.
It appears that Arenas 20-plus games into his tenure with Orlando could be turning a corner on the comfort scale.
I think hes playing with more energy, Van Gundy said. Hes not getting the ball in the basket, but that will come. The last couple nights, his energy has been better and hes attacked more. The thing I hope he understands is that he wasnt having a great shooting night but he was out there because of the other things he was doing.
Said Howard: Were just happy to see him playing a little bit better. He missed the fans here and the organization here but he just happy to get this game and get a good win and get a chance to rest. Hopefully hell continue to do better and continue to give us more.
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