Ariza moved aside, laughing as he scooted out of the locker room, leaving Webster surrounded by video cameras, microphones and tape recorders, covered only by a towel. Webster avoided an awkward situation by cracking a joke about being uncomfortable with so many people staring at his physique and then snuck off to the shower.
The postgame handoff may have been clumsy but Ariza and Webster once again proved to be an effective small forward tandem as the Wizards snapped a two-game losing streak with a win over the Bobcats. With Charlotte focused on — but not always capable of — slowing down Nene inside, Ariza and Webster benefited from the numerous open looks and combined for 46 points and 9-for-15 shooting from beyond the three-point line.
“Our bigs had mismatches all night, we thought. We wanted to take advantage of that and when they started doubling, they kicked it out to us and we started knocking down shots,” said Ariza, who scored a season-high 26 points and matched his season high with five three-pointers.
Webster, who is tied for third in the NBA in three-point accuracy at 44.3 percent, made his first four three-pointers and finished with 20 points. It was the third time this season — all since John Wall returned the lineup — that both Ariza and Webster scored at least 15 points in the same game, with the Wizards recording wins against New York, Denver and Charlotte.
“It makes the job easier for me, when you find those guys cutting and spotting up and when you want to double-team our big man, they are spacing up and making shots,” Wall said.
The Wizards (20-41) struggled to find reliable production at small forward after trading Caron Butler to Dallas at the trade deadline three years ago, relying on banged-up veterans (Josh Howard and Rashard Lewis) and an inexperienced rookie (Chris Singleton) before settling into solid rotation with Webster and Ariza.
“Seems like the second half of the season they’ve been playing unbelievable, both knocking down shots, both making plays, both playing defense,” reserve point guard A.J. Price said. “With both guys playing like that, we’re very tough to beat.”
Ariza and Webster have adjacent locker room stalls and have managed to connect, despite essentially playing for the same minutes. The Wizards rarely, if ever, see a drop-off when Ariza enters the game for Webster — and some nights Ariza provides better production.
“It’s weird like that sometimes. We feed off each other,” Ariza said. “That’s just how it is sometimes when you get real close to people. You help each other out throughout the year, just try to feed off everybody’s energy.”
Webster is averaging a career-high 10.8 points and supplanted Ariza as the starter after Ariza went down for 17 games with a strained left calf in early December. The sixth pick of the 2005 draft, Webster has rejuvenated his career after contemplating retirement last summer because of persistent back troubles.
“I finally got my back healthy,” Webster said recently. “It was very discouraging for me. My friends and my family believed in me and supported me throughout the whole process. It was brutal, it was tedious, but in the end, it was well worth it.”
The Timberwolves bought out Webster last summer for $600,000 to avoid paying him $5.7 million and the Wizards scooped him up for just $1.6 million, a considerable bargain given his production.
“He’s a good player and he’s having a very good year for them,” Minnesota Coach Rick Adelman said. “He’s always been a great three-point shooter and I know one thing about him, he competes. He competes every night, defensively as well. And I’m happy for him that he’s having a good year.”
Though Ariza would like to start — and considers himself a “sixth starter” — he has been more productive in a reserve role, averaging 9.8 points and shooting 43.4 percent from the field. Coach Randy Wittman often plays Ariza and Webster together and gave Ariza the starting nod for the first two games after rookie Bradley Beal went down with a sprained left ankle. Ariza struggled in both losses and Wittman replaced him with Garrett Temple against Charlotte to provide more ballhandling to assist Wall.
After Ariza became the first Wizards reserve since Christian Laettner in March 2001 to score at least 26 points and pull down 10 rebounds in a win, Wittman joked that he liked him coming off the bench.
“I don’t know to be honest with you. I can’t tell you,” Ariza said, when asked about his productivity off the bench as opposed to being a starter. “It is what it is. I’ve been making shots. Whatever it is that is going to help our team, that’s what I’m going to try to do.”