Arenas injury spells d-o-o-m for Wizards' playoff hopes

The Eastern Conference's "other big 3" will be down to a mere 2 for quite some time. News came yesterday that Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas will be out of commission for 3 months, leaving Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison to carry the Wiz in the nation's capital. Arenas suffered torn cartiledge in his knee (ouch!), which he admitted on his NBA.com blog could be a result of pushing himself a little too hard coming back from last year's somewhat unrelated knee injury. According to Arenas, he didn't give himself enough time to let his muscles heal and put too much pressure on the knee over the summer.
"I’m going to stay positive this time, because feeling sorry for myself didn’t work last time. It just kind of hurt that everything I did this summer really meant nothing, to the point where I’m rehabbing again...Running bleachers, riding bikes and doing all that stuff was just a little too much," wrote Arenas on his blog.
While Agent Zero sits out until February, the Washington Wizards so far have been doing a pretty decent job keeping the ship going in the right direction. After a rather worrisome 0-5 start to the season, Washington has won 6 games in a row and word around town is that Arena's injury, while tough, probably won't be enough to derail the team's playoff hopes. But, while Butler and Jamison are plenty talented, and Brendan Haywood, Darius Songaila and Antonio Daniels have stepped up this season, we're not so sure the Wiz can keep rolling along for long without o'l Gil.

First, their 6-game winning streak is a bit of an abberation. During that streak the Wizards have beaten Atlanta, Indiana, Minnesota, Portland, Philadelphia and Charlotte. Of all those teams, perhaps only the Charlotte Bobcats have a legitimate shot at the playoffs -- and their's a tricky shot to say the least. On paper it looks like the Wiz have picked up the defensive intensity and are staying on track offensively without Gilbert, but in reality the numbers are seriously skewed as a result of poor competition. Combined those squads have a horrendous 23-42 record. The Wizard's 0-5 start, which included losses to teams like Boston, Orlando, New Jersey and Denver, is probably closer to their actual status in the East. And, they are yet to play other Eastern powerhouses like Detroit, Toronto and Cleveland.

The loss of Etan Thomas to injury before the start of the season hurt significantly, as Washington lost a force on the offensive glass and a big body underneath from a front-line that is paper-thin to begin with. Now, the loss of Arenas could put them in a large enough hole in the standings, where a climb back to playoff contention may be too difficult to accomplish. In a perfect world, Arenas would be back before the All-Star game, which would in theory give the Wizards enough remaining games, if they play near-perfect ball, to get back in the mix. But in reality, that seems unlikely. The magic 8-ball says that the prognosis for a playoff run this season is "very doubtful".

The bottom line to all of this of course -- if the Wiz do miss the playoffs -- is that Eddie Jordan's coaching tenure in Washington could be in serious jeopardy. Sure, GM Ernie Grunfeld and Jordan have brought the Wizards franchise, which had been less than mediocre for decades, back to playoff prominence. But, for the last three seasons the team has been been treading water a little bit. It's not just about making the playoffs anymore for this franchise. They need to take the next step, before it's too late. Given that they now possess one of the most explosive scorers in the game in "hibachi", it's high time the Wiz stepped up into the upper echelon, with neighbors like the Celtics, Cavaliers and Pistons.

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