Stars clear air, set for rematch

WASHINGTON - It sure sounded like an insult. A dismissive dig, at least. The sort of thing Gilbert Arenas loves to hear so he can store it away for extra motivation.


After Arenas scored a franchise-record 60 points to lead the Washington Wizards past the Los Angeles Lakers in December, Kobe Bryant sniffed, "He doesn't seem to have much of a conscience," and made reference to his counterpart "just chucking it up there."

Bryant also warned, "I'll be ready next time." Well, next time for two of the NBA's top four scorers comes tonight, when Arenas' Wizards play host to Bryant's Lakers.

Asked this week about his "conscience" comment, Bryant put his best spin on it, saying, "That was a compliment." Perhaps in a further effort to extend an apologetic hand, Bryant said of Arenas: "He's playing extremely, extremely good basketball."

Arenas never misses a chance to point out real or perceived slights, something that's getting tougher as he piles up Eastern Conference player of the week awards and heads to his third All-Star game - as a first-time starter, no less.

He's willing to give Bryant the benefit of the doubt in this instance.

"Kobe and I have been friends since I came into this league, and I didn't take offense to it. At the end of the day, he's my idol. That's who I grew up watching and that's who I grew up trying to be like," Arenas said. "So as far as I'm concerned, the blood is still good between me and him."

Don't get Arenas wrong, though. It's not as if he's preparing to be a bit player tonight.

"I didn't say I'm not going to be in attack mode. I'm going to be in attack mode - you can believe that," he said. "It's just going to be a good game. "

Arenas is second in the league with a 29.5-point scoring average, while Bryant ranks fourth at 28.8.

Both have their teams winning much more than a year ago. Washington is atop the Eastern Conference at 27-18, and Los Angeles entered Friday's game at Indiana with a 28-18 record, good for second place in the Pacific Division.

The focus certainly will be on the two biggest stars on the floor: Kobe vs. Gilbert. Caron Butler, who played for the Lakers in 2004-05 and now is Arenas' teammate, has no doubt that Bryant is looking forward to this rematch.

"Kobe marks dates on his calendar and is secretly saying, 'That's my game right there,'" said Butler, who's headed to his first All-Star appearance. "I'm almost positive this game is marked on his calendar."


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