Trevor Ariza is by far the most laid-back player in the Washington Wizards starting bunch. The smooth manner in which he operates on the court translates to the way he conducts himself in interviews and the locker room, throwing both subtle jokes and motivating words into his speech.
That’s probably why it’s easy to overlook what Ariza, the only Wizard with a championship ring, has done to play the role of utility man in helping his less-experienced counterparts thrive during the first two games of the Wizards’ playoff series against Chicago.
In Game 1, Ariza scored eight of his 18 points in the third quarter to help trim a Chicago lead that had reached nine points, knocking down a momentum-ending three-pointer and a key reverse layup. The Wizards swingman then sank two free throws — an area in which the team has struggled, shooting 66.7 percent in two games — to give Washington a fourth-quarter lead it would not relinquish en route to victory.
In Game 2, with Bradley Beal and John Wall overcoming their first-game jitters to pace the Wizards during their blistering start from the field, Ariza took to filling up the rest of the stat sheet, tallying a team-high eight rebounds and seven assists. Then, after watching D.J. Augustin torch Washington for 25 points off the bench, Ariza told Wizards Coach Randy Wittman to let him guard Chicago’s spark plug. The defensive switch resulted in Augustin going scoreless for the game’s final 25 minutes and without a field-goal attempt in overtime.
“He’s one of our X-factors,” Wall said. “Trevor does a great job of playing defense and making corner threes and doing all the little things for our team. Late in that game, he guarded D.J. Augustin and kind of basically took him out of the game. That’s something we needed because he was hurting us throughout the whole game.”
Wall is expected to again take on the primary task of guarding Augustin for Game 3. But with Chicago prone to swing the ball through its multiple options in offensive sets and its knack for rebounding, Ariza’s length will be key in providing help on defense and controlling the boards in Friday’s pivotal contest.
On offense, Ariza has been consistent across the board, shooting 50 percent from the field, 45.5 percent from three-point territory and 83.3 percent from the free-throw line. What’s more, Ariza holds the highest net rating among Wizards starters when he’s on the floor, as the team has outscored the Bulls by 11.2 points per 100 possessions.
With a usage percentage of just 12.8, Ariza has shown that he doesn’t need to have the ball in his hands to impact the Wizards. But between his championship-run experience as a starter alongside Kobe Bryant on the Lakers in 2009 and his even-keeled, sage-like demeanor on the upstart Wizards, Ariza knows how to make the most of both his and the team’s opportunity in the playoffs.
“I just try to play hard every night,” Ariza said. “If I’m not scoring, I’m trying to do other things to help this team win whether it be defense, rebounding, whatever it is to help, that’s what I try to do.
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