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Washington Wizards' Trevor Ariza embraces role off the bench

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Forward sees self as one of 'six starters'

Trevor Ariza's philosophy makes as much sense as anything to help understand the nuances of the current Wizards rotation.

"I look at myself as a starter," Ariza said, "so I guess we have six starters."

While John Wall's return to health for the Wizards (12-35) solidified a starting lineup that had changed 13 times in the first 33 games of the season, coach Randy Wittman has had to strike a delicate balance with the rest of his roster. The challenge of finding contributors and keeping them happy is renewed on a nightly basis.

Up next
Knicks at Wizards
When » Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Where » Verizon Center
TV » CSN

Ariza, for now, is one of the success stories. As the second or third guy off the bench, he's frequently found himself on the floor in crunch time chasing the opponent's best scorer, such as the Los Angeles Clippers' potential sixth man of the year Jamal Crawford.

Wittman called Crawford's 28 points in Monday's victory "the hardest 28 I think he probably got all year," and Ariza's next assignment will be to harass Carmelo Anthony when the Knicks (31-15) arrive Wednesday.

"He gives us a lot of versatility," Wittman said. "I think he's fallen into a role. He's accepted it, and that's why he's playing at a high level. He's given us such a spark from a defensive standpoint, and the luxury of that being you can play him on so many different guys."

Ariza arrived from New Orleans in the offseason having started 187 of the 188 games he'd played the previous three seasons -- two with the Hornets and one in Houston. He also started 13 of the first 15 in Washington before he was sidelined for a month by a calf strain.

Since his return in early January, he's had to cede that role to Martell Webster, the team's best 3-point shooter (42.7 percent).

"You don't want to disrupt the flow of the good things that we're doing," Wittman said when asked about managing Ariza's expectations. "I think he realizes that and has accepted that."

Minutes for the rest of Washington's bevy of forwards have changed with the tides. Chris Singleton played 36 minutes in the last two games, more than he did in the previous 21 games combined. Trevor Booker, coming off a left wrist injury, has struggled all year to find any consistency, and Jan Vesely's rare appearances have been based on matchups.

Singleton, who started 51 games last season as a rookie, saw the writing on the wall when Ariza was acquired.

"It's tough," he said. "But I think, coming into the season, if you had looked into our roster, you could've known people were going to be battling and things could fluctuate."

Without an elite scorer -- the Wizards have six players who average at least 10.4 points per game but none higher than Wall's 14.1 -- the situation is unlikely to change any time soon. For Ariza, it's a far cry from when he last came off the bench regularly for the Los Angeles Lakers during their 2009 title run.

"Playing with Kobe [Bryant], he's liable to get whatever any night," Ariza said. "This is a little different."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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