Wizards’ Trevor Ariza enjoying the open looks

January 21, 2013
I like playing D, though. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)
I like playing D, though. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

The Wizards don’t always look for Trevor Ariza to score. They don’t expect him to have many 11-point third quarters, as he had last Friday in Denver. And they certainly don’t pencil him for in another double-digit scoring effort on the next night, as he did while scoring 11 points against the Los Angeles Clippers.

But what the Wizards do expect from Ariza – and nearly everyone else on the team – is to shoot when he has an open look. Ariza has, at times, second guessed his shot this season but he hasn’t had that problem in the past two games, with him scoring at least 10 points in back-to-back games for the first time this season.

“His confidence is growing,” rookie Bradley Beal said. “I keep telling him, everybody keeps telling him, ‘Keep shooting the ball. You’re wide open. If you’re that wide open, you should shoot the ball.’ These last two games have been great for him and he’s just got to keep it up and we’re just going to keep pushing him and keep giving him confidence.”

Considering how the Wizards’ five-game road trip began, Ariza probably needed a little encouragement to keep shooting. Ariza had an eyesore of a performance against Sacramento, missing six shots and committing four turnovers in a game that the Wizards lost by just one point.

But when the Wizards fell into a 10-point hole in the third quarter against the Nuggets, Ariza scored the first eight points of a critical 20-7 run. Ariza knocked down two three-pointers and a reverse layup, setting his teammates on the course for a stunning victory.

In his past two games, Ariza is averaging 12.5 points and has connected on 5 of 11 three-pointers.

“I think that I’ve been playing better the last two games,” Ariza said, “but I think it starts from the defensive end, bringing that defensive energy, and leads to confident offense.”

This season, Ariza is shooting a career-low 35.3 percent from the floor and averaging 7.6 points – his lowest in five seasons –  but Coach Randy Wittman has tolerated some of those struggles because of what Ariza gives the team on the other end.

Though the Wizards were unable to pull off an upset of the Clippers, they were stifling defensively and held them to just 36.6 percent shooting. Ariza took on one of the toughest challenges – sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford – and helped hold a player with long-shot chances of making the all-star team to just seven points on just 3-of-13 shooting.

“He really shut him down,” Beal said. “He’s been great. His ability to rebound, stop guys and he’s really knocked down shots when he’s had the opportunity.”

Ariza eased into his return from a 17-game absence with a strained left calf, making modest contributions in limited minutes during wins against Oklahoma City and Atlanta. He finally got his first dish from John Wall in the victory over the Hawks, getting his only two points of the game when Wall flipped a behind the back pass on a fast break.

Wall’s speed and playmaking has helped create more quality looks for Ariza. “Dude is unbelievably fast. Like a blur going up and down the court. Crazy,” Ariza said of Wall. “He’s doing a great job, because they have to collapse in the paint. And he puts so much pressure on the rim, he finds us and we’re getting wide open shots. I think that’s helped a lot, too.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · January 19, 2013