Trevor Ariza swears that he wasn’t concerned with showing up with fellow UCLA alum Arron Afflalo on Monday night at Verizon Center. It was just a coincidence that when the Wizards played the Orlando Magic, the game turned into an entertaining one-on-one duel for much of the first half with the former Bruins taking turns carrying their teams and attacking each other.
“Arron is good. He’s gotten a lot better over the years. It wasn’t easy guarding him. He did his thing,” Ariza said. “It wasn’t about that. It was about getting a win. Fortunately, we got the win.”
The Wizards beat the Magic, 98-80, to improve to 9-9 and Ariza also came out ahead in his individual matchup with Afflalo, outscoring him 24-21. Ariza played so well that his night was over after three quarters of work.
“That was good, man,” said Ariza, who had the chance to spend the fourth quarter cracking jokes with injured teammate Al Harrington and laughing at stories from assistant coach Sam Cassell.
The night got off to an encouraging start as Ariza caught a pass from John Wall and buried a three-pointer from the left corner. Wall later dropped a no-look, pocket pass on a fast break that ended with an Ariza dunk. Ariza scored eight of the Wizards’ first 13 points and hit a three-pointer to give his team an 11-point lead to start the game.
Ariza finished 8 of 9 from the floor and 4 of 4 from three-point range as he scored 24 points for the second straight game. Two nights before against Atlanta, Ariza shot 7 of 10 from the floor and connected on 5 of 6 from long distance.
With Wall breaking down the Magic defense and setting him up for wide-open three-pointers, Ariza had plenty of time to make a shot that he has been given all season.
“I got a lot of open looks,” Ariza said. “And when you got a lot of time to tee it up, you’re not going to miss too many of them. I work on it every day. Those are shots that I practice and shots that I was in rhythm to take.”
Since returning from a strained right hamstring last week, Ariza has helped the Wizards withstand the absence of Bradley Beal by averaging 17.8 points on 55.2 percent shooting from the field (32-58) and 48.3 percent from three-point range (14-29).
The Wizards are 4-1 since Beal went down with a stress injury in his right fibula and Ariza came back to serve as an interchangeable perimeter player along with Martell Webster. Ariza has scored in double figures in each game, but he has also saved the Wizards with his defense, recording three steals in a win over Milwaukee. Teams have been focusing on slowing Wall or containing the interior tandem of Nene and Marcin Gortat, giving Ariza some great looks.
“For some reason, man, those guys on my team, him, Brad and Martell, might get the most open corner threes in the league to me, in my opinion,” Wall said. “They do a good job of working on that every day and they’re knocking them down, so I think that’s a confidence builder for those guys of being able to make shots and seeing that ball go in the basket.”
When asked why they are so open, Ariza credited Wall. “He’s knows that we’re going to be running with him. He knows where we’re going to be. If they collapse on him, he knows he’s going to have me, Martell, Chris [Singleton], everybody out there waiting for him to kick the rock out.”
Ariza scored all of his points in the first 29 minutes of the game and collected two assists after attracting the Magic’s attention. He fed Wall for a three-pointer then worked a beautiful give-and-go with Gortat, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the third period.
“We were playing out style of basketball,” Ariza said. “Basketball that we like, basketball that we work on every day. We stuck with it, we got open shots, and a lot of open looks.”
The Wizards completed a grueling stretch of nine games in 14 days by going 7-2 and Ariza believes that the team has been strengthened by the challenging schedule. “I was out the first part of it. Brad’s out now. We found ways to win,” Ariza said. “Hopefully he comes back soon, so everybody can be healthy and we can get this thing moving.”