Sidelined with a strained left calf, Trevor Ariza was unable to make the trip to New Orleans on Dec. 11, when the Wizards won their first road game of the season against the Hornets, 77-70.
With his former team in town on Friday for the rematch at Verizon Center, Ariza is healthier – though he is dealing with a sore left knee – and has finally found a comfortable role on the Wizards. But he isn’t trying to place any special meaning in facing the team that traded him, along with Emeka Okafor, last June in a deal for Rashard Lewis’s expiring contract.
“I’ve been on a number of teams,” Ariza said with a grin. “Treat it like it’s a regular game. Not really worry about me, or individual things, but this is not an individual sport. It’s a team sport. Just stick to our game plan and do what I need to do.”
Ariza spent two seasons in New Orleans, helping the Hornets reach the playoffs in 2010-11 before the franchise traded Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers and began to initiate its rebuilding efforts. He played his final game for the organization on April 7, scoring just four points in win over Minnesota. Hornets Coach Monty Williams later informed Ariza of his plans to start Al-Farouq Aminu, one of the pieces acquired in the Paul deal, for the remainder of the season. Ariza sat the final 10 games and assumed that he would get dealt.
When asked about the situation last June, Ariza said: “It is what it is. I loved my teammates there. They are all great players. I did everything I can to help them. Even when I wasn’t playing, I still encouraged all the players to be all they can be, to continue to work hard. I still did what I needed to do, to stay in shape, to keep my game going to try to get better. When they realized they wanted to bring Farouq along, I was all for it. It’s not my team. It’s their decisions to make and I’m just a player in this league.”
After practicing at Georgetown’s McDonough Arena on Thursday, Williams praised Ariza and Okafor for their contributions to the organization.
“They were vets. That understood how to play,” he said. “Emeka was a guy that I didn’t understand how good he was until he didn’t play. When he was injured with us a few games, our record was different, our rebounding was different, our defense was different. And Trevor was one of those guys who can just defend, knock down timely shots.
“I was really tough on both of them, so they probably had some different things to say about me,” Williams said before laughing. “But I really value what they brought to the table. You can’t put a value on experience.”
Ariza struggled in his first 15 games with the Wizards, averaging just 8.1 points on 34.9 percent shooting from the floor and 25.6 percent from three-point range. But his production has increased dramatically since John Wall returned to the lineup – and especially in recent weeks.
In his past 20 games, Ariza is averaging 12.1 points on 46.8 percent shooting from the field while connecting on 41.4 percent from the floor. Williams said it wasn’t a coincidence that Ariza’s performance has improved while playing with Wall.
“Trev is a really good complement guy and that doesn’t diminish anything about his game,” Williams said. “If you can set the table for Trevor, he can finish it, whether it’s with a three, on the break, flashing to the basket. Trevor is a high who has a really high IQ for the game. Guys like that you don’t have to do much to set them up. You just have to put them in their spots and allow their instincts to take over and he has good natural instincts. Defensively, he was the guy who I put on the toughest wing guy every single night, Durant, LeBron, Carmelo and never backed down from the challenge. Those guys were really important to our program.”
Ariza said he feels better about playing the Hornets now that he has fully adjusted to his surroundings in Washington. “It’s a good thing. Always good to be playing good when you face your old team.”