A week ago, Washington Wizards swingman Trevor Ariza was so sick with the flu that he had to miss the team photo. The Wizards called upon Mystics player personnel manager Awvee Storey (see below; second row, last player on the right) to stand in for Ariza, whose face ultimately will be photoshopped into the picture.
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) April 7, 2014
Two days later, Ariza hit rock bottom, slogging through 39 scoreless minutes during an April 9 overtime loss to Charlotte before coughing his way through a postgame interview in which he refused to blame his sickness for his 4-for-24 shooting (including 1-for-12 from three) during the previous four contests.
Though the media still kept its distance while Ariza sipped from a Gatorade bottle following Monday’s win against Miami, the scene was decidedly different. Gone was Ariza’s scratchy voice and back was a shooting touch that helped him knock down five of Washington’s 14 three-pointers in victory.
“It was still there; just missed,” a smiling Ariza said when asked where his shooting ability had gone. “It felt good to see the ball go through the basket. Even though it wasn’t the past few games, I stayed confident, still shooting and my teammates still looked for me, so that says a lot about the confidence they have in me.”
Ariza has done his part to build this confidence. Entering Wednesday’s regular-season finale against Boston, the nine-year veteran has drained 180 three-pointers, which ranks fourth on the Wizards all-time list for treys in a season (Gilbert Arenas holds the top three totals with 205 in both the ’06-’07 and ’04-’05 campaigns and 199 in ’05-’06).
Ten of those threes came in a Feb. 12 win against Houston, marking a franchise-best and sparking a stretch in which Ariza scored at least 22 points in five of 11 games.
Since then, however, Ariza has struggled to find consistency in a shot. In four games against New York, Chicago, Charlotte and Orlando last week, Ariza hit just one of his 16 three-point shots.
The slump ended Saturday, when Ariza hit two of his four three-point shots before Monday’s breakout performance in which he scored a game-high 25 points. With Nene back in the lineup providing another inside threat, Ariza’s sharpshooting will be critical to Washington’s success in keeping the defense honest and the Wizards competitive.
As a key target in Washington’s pass-and-penetrate offense, the Wizards register an offensive rating of 104.7 when Ariza is on the floor. That number drops to 99.6 when Ariza is on the bench. What’s more, Ariza is often charged with guarding the opposing team’s best player, from Miami’s LeBron James to Indiana’s Paul George, using his long frame to harass and cause turnovers that spark Washington’s transition attack.
“I still got a little bit of a cough but that’s going away,” Ariza said. “I want to play, I want to win, regardless. … We start a new season Wednesday night after the game is over. It’s exciting and it should be exciting for the city because we haven’t been here in a long time. I’m ready.”