Trevor Ariza has once again gone down with a leg injury, and in a similar situation as a year ago, Martell Webster will move into the starting lineup at small forward. Last season, Ariza’s misfortune was Webster’s gain as Webster put up career-high numbers, held on to the job even after Ariza returned from injury, and went on to sign a four-year deal worth $22 million to stay with the Wizards.
Ariza reclaimed his starting job in training camp and was off to one of the best starts of his career before he strained his right hamstring after hustling for a steal in the first half of the Wizards’ 92-79 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. An MRI on Thursday gave the Wizards assurance that Ariza’s injury isn’t very serious but a person with knowledge of the situation said he “most likely” will be out when the team hosts the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday at Verizon Center.
Webster has had an up-and-down start while coming off the bench this season but erupted for a season-high 21 points and made three three-pointers against the Spurs. He also grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds to record his first double-double since Dec. 26.
“You never want no player to get injured, because Trevor is having a good year for us, and he’s one of our big key pieces,” Wall said, “but when he was out last year, Martell step up big time and got a lot of confidence. Hopefully that will build some confidence in Martell, to keep playing the way he did” in San Antonio.
Ariza is Washington’s best perimeter defender and helps produce fastbreak opportunities with his long arms and anticipation. He leads the team with 2.1 steals per game. But Ariza is also a viable offensive weapon and has excelled this season as a catch-and-shoot partner with John Wall.
Webster had formed a similar chemistry with Wall last season – when he became the starter after Ariza was forced to miss three weeks with a strained left calf – and the Wizards will need a duplicate performance, depending on how long Ariza will be sidelined.
“I don’t care about my performance,” Webster said after the loss. “As long as I’m playing defense. Of course, I would prefer to make shots to help contribute offensively to my team. More importantly just trying to stay in the game defensively.”
Calling Ariza’s injury was “terrible,” Webster said he knows what he has to do next – and that’s forget about what he’s done through the first eight games of the season. Before his big game in San Antonio, Webster was averaging 8.4 points and shooting 33.3 percent from three-point range in 24.2 minutes. Those numbers are down considerably from last season, when he played almost four more minutes per game and averaged a career-high 11.7 points and shot a career-high 42.2 percent from long distance.
Webster has also had two games in which he attempted just one shot, including a scoreless outing against Brooklyn, and has the worst plus-minus of any player on the team (minus-75).
“As a shooter, you have to have a short memory,” Webster said. “I’ve kind of forgotten about everything that’s happened prior to this and I just want to go out and play. I don’t really care about scoring. I understand some nights, I’m going to have a lot of attempts and open looks at the basket. I’ve got to convert those. But I’m not questioning the fact if I get enough shots or not. I don’t care about that. I just want to win.”
Wittman may now have to give rookie Glen Rice Jr. more opportunities to play as well. Rice didn’t appear in the Wizards’ first six games but saw some action in their last two double-digit losses and scored a total of five points.
“It’s always fun to be able to get out there and play. Of course you wish the circumstances were different. You’d rather be blowing a team out in the game than the other way around,” Rice said of his NBA debut. “You just got to keep working. I just want to win games. It don’t matter if I’m playing or not. As long as we’re winning games. That’s the main thing. I’m just trying to stay ready. I know the guys are capable of winning games and it doesn’t bother you if you know your team is good enough to win games if you’re not playing.”
Garrett Temple may also get more minutes at the wing, given his ability to guard multiple positions and his familiarity with playing alongside Wall for much of last season. “Now it’s an opportunity for everybody to step up, especially at that three position,” Webster said. “Glen Rice got his feet wet. I’m pretty sure it was an overwhelming experience, especially playing against a team like this but it’s a learning curve. He’s a rookie. Garrett got to get in there and that’s how it’s going to be until he gets back. We’ve got to make the most of it.”