Mike Woodson's memory is sharp where the Washington Wizards are concerned. While some people might think of the Wizards as the injury-ravaged team that limped through the 2008-09 NBA season with a 19-63 record, the same team the Hawks' leap-frogged for second place in the Southeast Division behind Orlando, Woodson knows better.
That's not the same team his Hawks will face this season, starting with tonight's preseason affair at Philips Arena.
"They're a deep team and one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference now," Woodson said. "Just getting Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood back [from injuries] puts them in an entirely different light. Then you add Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison and Mike Miller and Randy Foye to that with the young guys like [JaVale] McGee and [Andray] Blatche and you're talking about a really deep and versatile team that we're going to have to deal with all year long."
The chance to take a refreshed look at the Wizards in the preseason couldn't have come at a better time for the Hawks , who will host the Wizards in the second regular-season game Oct. 30. It's been a while since they've seen Arenas, a three-time All-NBA selection, not that they've forgotten just how dangerous the All-Star guard can be.
"You'd be a fool to forget how good they used to be," Hawks forward Marvin Williams said. "Gilbert Arenas is one of the most explosive scorers in the league and they've had to play without him for basically the last two years."
Arenas tore the meniscus in his left knee in April 2007. Three different operations in 17 months for their top player dashed any hopes the Wizards had of maintaining their place among the division's top teams.
"They're just a whole new team now," Atlanta forward Josh Smith said. "We've got to get a good feel about this team as opposed to what they used to be. They've got a new coach, too, in Flip Saunders, so as much as we might want to look at them like the old Wizards, that's not who they are right now."
The same can't be said for Arenas.
One of the league's most exciting players when healthy, he's played in just 15 regular season games the past two seasons. Arenas has averaged 22.8 points, 5.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds in his career. In five preseason games he's averaged 24.2 minutes, 14.6 points and 7.0 assists, showing glimpses of the player that dazzled the league before all his knee troubles.
"Nothing's changed," Williams said.
"I guarantee you he's going to be the same player he was before. But we're a little different team than we were back then. And ultimately, if we're going to chase the goals we've set for ourselves this season, it starts in the division against teams like Washington and Orlando and Charlotte and Miami. So we're going to have to get through whoever is in our way."
Next for Hawks
Who: vs. Wizards (exhib.)
When: 7 p.m. today