The shiner under his left eye will heal soon enough, but Ariza can’t say for sure when he expects to feel relaxed with his new team. Ariza, a 6-foot-8 small forward, is playing with his sixth team in eight seasons, but he admitted that settling in with the Wizards and understanding the nuances of the offense have taken more time than usual.
“It’s never been this long to adjust to something for myself, so of course it’s frustrating,” said Ariza, who is averaging 4.5 points and shooting just 25 percent (3 of 12) in two starts.
Ariza had a decent performance in the season-opening loss in Cleveland, scoring nine points with four assists and three steals and knocking down a wide-open three-pointer to provide the first points of the NBA season.
But he had a miserable outing against Boston in Saturday’s home opener. He missed all four of his field goal attempts, got outscored 27-0 by his counterpart, Paul Pierce, and didn’t play in the fourth quarter as Coach Randy Wittman relied on reserves Martell Webster and Cartier Martin during an 89-86 loss.
Ariza’s night was over soon after it began against the Celtics, as he drove baseline in the first quarter, stretched out his long right arm for a finger roll and dropped the ball directly on the back of the rim. His new home fans groaned.
“I've never been in a situation where I was that close to the basket and missed a layup,” Ariza said, shaking his head. “That was crazy. That was unbelievable. I was laughing at the end of the game, but you have to forget about it and move forward.”
When the Wizards (0-2) acquired Ariza and Emeka Okafor from New Orleans in a deal for Rashard Lewis’s expiring contract, they were expecting him to be a defensive complement to both John Wall and Nene; a player who could score in transition and hit the occasional three-pointer. With Wall and Nene down, the remaining Wizards have to assume more responsibilities but Wittman doesn’t want Ariza to lose sight of his strengths — even if his vision is a bit blurry.
“The black eye? Again, you're going to go through that,” Wittman said. “He’s just got to worry about two things: He can defend multiple positions and he can rebound and he can run and that's all I care about seeing him do right now. And I think if you just concentrate on that, rather than on so many other things, then it simplifies and now you get into a little bit of rhythm.”
Ariza, 27, won a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 playing off all-stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The Wizards, with no current or former all-stars on the roster, rank 29th in the league at 85 points per game.
Jordan Crawford has led the team in scoring the past two games, but his availability for Wednesday’s rematch in Boston is in question after he was forced to sit out practice on Monday with a sprained left ankle. The Wizards are lacking proven and reliable scorers, but Ariza said they still have to find a way to win games.
“It’s a five-player game,” he said. “Five players on the court, you have to work together to get open shots, whether you have a superstar on your team or you have five regular players, as people call us. We just got to go out there and work together and try to put something together.”
Wittman said he plans to stay with his starting lineup of Ariza, Okafor, A.J. Price, Trevor Booker and Bradley Beal. That unit has fallen into double-digit holes in each of the first two games but Wittman wants to allow a group with so many new and unfamiliar parts a chance to establish a rhythm and roles before making more changes.
“This is a new team for me, a new system for Emeka and I together, as well as Martell. Just trying to get used to everybody, it takes a little time,” Ariza said. “I don't think it’s about expectations because what is our expectation, you know what I'm saying?”