Trevor Ariza was given Thursday off to rest and recover from a grueling night in which he had to guard LeBron James – while battling a triple-digit fever. Coach Randy Wittman asked Ariza to give him all that he could, and the end result was 10 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals in a valiant 35-minute effort that earned the respect of his teammates.
“You just give him a lot a credit. He came in with a 102 fever, not feeling well even when he came out in the first quarter,” John Wall said. “He was throwing up on the sideline. He just stuck with it and gave us a lot of effort. That’s the one thing you can respect is being a professional, a guy, he didn’t have a lot of energy but what he had he put for that effort to help us compete.”
Ariza’s performance was even more impressive considering Wittman’s decision to rotate just eight players for the second straight game. With Nene back in the starting lineup and no longer constrained by a 28-minute time limit, Trevor Booker has been the only big man off the bench; Martell Webster has spelled both Ariza and Bradley Beal; and Garrett Temple has provided relief for Wall.
The decision has led to two of the more impressive wins this season — a 14-point road victory over the Chicago Bulls and a 17-point home victory against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
“We played well, no question about it. Our level of play is where it has to be for us to be competitive,” Wittman said. “It’s how we’re playing. Right now, that combination of guys has played well together.”
But the tightened rotation nearly backfired on Wednesday, when the Wizards showed some justified fatigue and let a 34-point lead get whittled down to 86-77 before the start the of the fourth quarter. The Wizards appeared to be dragging over the final minutes of the third quarter, when Wall, Ariza and Marcin Gortat played the entire period and Washington committed nine of its 12 turnovers and Miami staged a 29-6 run.
“I’m not going to lie, I got a little nervous,” Booker said. “We still believed in each other. We still got the job done.”
For now, eight is enough. “I think it’s good,” Beal said of the rotation. “Of course, we’re a little winded at times, but that’s just something we have to suck up and move on from. You never know when your number’s called, so guys who haven’t played as much always have to be ready. But whenever there’s an eight-man rotation, you always have to be ready and I think we can get into a better rhythm that way, as well. I think everybody’s still warm, everybody knows what to do and knows what they expect.”
The most challenging aspect of sticking with eight players is that Beal is still limited to play 30 minutes a game while recovering from a stress injury in his right fibula. Beal got off to a strong start, scoring 10 points in his minute first-quarter stint, and Wittman still had to pull him to save him for later in the game.
“I get more of a headache reading a stat sheet each timeout, trying to figure the minutes out and everything else. Got to stay on top of it,” Wittman said. “I thought Bradley was playing extremely well to start the game. As I coach, I hate taking him out when a guy is on a roll, but I had no choice right now, with where we’re at, with Bradley. There were a couple of times where I’m looked at him, like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I’ve left him out there.’ But no different if it’s eight-man or 10-man.”
Temple only scored two points but Wittman appreciated his 11 minutes in support of Wall. With Wall gasping in the fourth quarter when the Wizards were up 12, Wittman put Temple in for four minutes. The lead only reduced by a point and Wall had enough energy to account for the Wizards next 13 points – four free throws, two assists and two jumpers – to put the game out of reach.
“Temple gave us 11 minutes, that are quality minutes, that are time needed that we could rest John,” Wittman said. “In a game like this, John had us going in that first half up and down, the pace that we were playing and to be able to give him 12 minutes rest in a game like this was key. He defended, made a big shot when we took John out in that fourth quarter to give John a break. He was big.”
Wittman will eventually need to call upon Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin and Otto Porter Jr. again and reiterated that the eight-man rotation isn’t permanent and could change for Friday’s game against Chicago.
“I can’t tell you it’s going to be eight again,” Wittman said. “As I tell our guys, be ready each and every night to play. That’s the main focus. We’ll see. It’s a feel thing and how the game is going. Foul trouble, minutes, all that can change in a minute, just like that. I can sit here and say, ‘I’m going to play eight guys.’ But I’m going to have to play 10 or 11, depending on how the game is going and different circumstances that might arise.”