Former Los Angeles Lakers forward Trevor Ariza, now playing for the Washington Wizards, didn’t need to look too far to find the motivation for scoring 25 points against his former team in a 103-100 Wizards victory at the Staples Center on Friday night.
In addition to the open looks that helped his 7-of-12 shooting from behind the 3-point line, the motivation was right there inside the visitors’ locker room with him—all three feet and change of his son Tajh.
“I was getting a lot of open shots for one and was knocking them down,” said Ariza. “And also, it is my son’s birthday. He just turned five today, it was his birthday present.”
The energetic Tajh bolted past a group of media members when they descended upon his father for postgame questioning. Judging by Tajh’s reaction, it appears that a sports figure’s aversion to the media passes on to his or her offspring.
“Where you going?” Ariza said to Tajh.
Wizards point guard John Wall, who finished the game with 24 points and 16 assists, did his best impression of Tajh on the Lakers in the second half of the game—running away and taking advantage of Los Angeles’ stagnant second half defense. Wall did his part in helping the Lakers commit 17 turnovers for the evening with three steals.
The Lakers held a 16-point halftime advantage over the Wizards before Ariza went trigger happy from behind the 3-point line in the second half. Los Angeles was ahead by 18 with 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter, but the Wizards whittled it down to two after Ariza knocked down a 26-footer with half a minute left.
In the fourth quarter, Ariza unleashed a salvo of 3-point shots that mostly found their mark. He went 5-of-7 from behind the arc, scoring 14 points in that quarter alone.
The Lakers were well aware that Ariza was capable of these types of performances. After stints with the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic, Ariza was sent to the Lakers via trade in 2007.
Still a young, budding prospect at the time, Ariza proved he had the mettle for big game performances, especially during the 2009 NBA Finals. In Game 4, Ariza had 13 points in the third quarter, hitting key 3-point shots that would help lift the Lakers past the Magic.
Ariza was an instrumental component of that Los Angeles team that would eventually go on to win the championship by putting Orlando away in five games. The athleticism, length and pesky defense he was lauded for would come back to haunt the Lakers against the Wizards Friday night.
When it was evident that Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who returned after missing two games with a sprained ankle, was poised for a perfunctory fourth quarter outburst, Ariza was tasked with guarding his former teammate. Bryant had 13 of his 21 points in the final quarter and went 8-of-18 for the night.
“I thought Trevor’s length made him take some tough shots,” said Wizards head coach Randy Wittman.
With the Wizards up by three points with 1.5 seconds remaining, Bryant hand an opportunity for continuing his recent late-game heroics by sinking a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. Bryant received a perfectly placed inbounds pass from center Dwight Howard, took one dribble and pulled up for a 3-pointer near the right corner, but Ariza contested the shot just enough for it to carom off the rim.
Despite scrimmaging against Bryant numerous times during his stay in Los Angeles, Ariza said that it didn’t play a factor in defending the future Hall of Famer.
“(Playing against Bryant) is the same,” said Ariza. “I got to play against him a lot in practice. The familiarity (of playing against Bryant) doesn’t help you at all. He’s so good.”
Additionally, Ariza maintained that the previous experience of playing in the Staples Center for two seasons didn’t contribute to his performance. Nor was it playing against the team that was unable to re-sign him after he became a free agent in the 2009 offseason.
“It’s not really about the team, who we play,” said Ariza, who signed a five-year, $33 million contract with the Houston Rockets in 2009 before finding himself in New Orleans and now Washington after subsequent trades. “Just getting a win, that’s the most important thing. Of course it’s good to beat the Lakers, but it’s better that we got the win.”
“I just play basketball,” added Ariza. “It doesn’t matter where it is, I just try to do my best to play to win.”
Furthermore, the sting of his alma mater, UCLA, losing by 20 points to Minnesota during the NCAA Tournament earlier in the evening was tempered by the Wizards’ victory. After a prep career playing for Westchester High School in Los Angeles, Ariza played for the UCLA Bruins during the 2003-04 season before being drafted 43rd overall by the Knicks during the 2004 NBA Draft.
“It is (the UCLA loss) what it is,” said Ariza.
Ben Hernandez Jr.
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