- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2019

For large stretches of Thursday’s game against the Golden State Warriors, Trevor Ariza will have to defend star Kevin Durant. In other moments, the Wizards forward will be tasked with stopping Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson.

The Wizards expect he’ll be up to the job. After all, Ariza’s defensive versatility is a key reason why Washington acquired him from the Phoenix Suns in December.

But in the 16 games since being acquired, Ariza has also shown he’s more than being a capable defender and spot-up shooter — two labels attached to the 33-year-old throughout his career.

That’s by design, coach Scott Brooks said.

“When he first got here and I had my first talk with him, I [told him I] expect more from you than you just being a spot-up shooter,” Brooks said. “We have to expand. You’re 33. You have a lot more years in this league and you can keep improving, you can keep getting better and I think he’s challenged himself to move around a little bit, not just space the floor.”

The Wizards are 7-3 in their last 10 games in part because of Ariza, who also played for Washington from 2012-14. He’s not the only reason the Wizards are playing better — hello, Bradley Beal — but the swingman contributes in important areas like rebounding, passing and yes, defending.

In 16 games with the Wizards, Ariza has averaged 14.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

The only thing Ariza hasn’t done well is shoot — but even that has been on an uptick lately. Over the last four games, Ariza has shot 40 percent from deep. The veteran has been streaky, but the Wizards aren’t just asking him to be a spot-up shooter.

“He’s a guy who can do it all,” forward Jeff Green said. “He’s a smart basketball player, he makes the right reads and we try to get open for him. That’s what it’s been all about.”

Ariza and Green each have allowed the Wizards to continue to bring Otto Porter off the bench. Initially brought off the bench as Porter worked his way back from injury, the Wizards have thrived with Porter as a sixth man.

Together, the three of them bring much-needed length to the Wizards. Brooks wants his defenders to switch in pick-and-rolls. And with Porter, Ariza and Green close to the same size, it helps limit mismatches for the offense.

“The thing I’ve been impressed since we picked him up is just his approach to the game,” Brooks said. “He has the respect of his team.”

Against Golden State, the Wizards will need more than just Ariza’s defense to have a chance. Washington was blown out by the Warriors, 144-122, on Oct. 25 in their first meeting earlier this season — a game in which Curry erupted for 51 points.

The Wizards have made significant changes since then. Three players (Jason Smith, Kelly Oubre, Austin Rivers) who appeared in that game are no longer on the roster. The Wizards will also have four different starters from the first meeting.

Though the team has improved, Beal acknowledged the Warriors, who have won two straight titles, will be a good measuring stick to how far his team has come.

“It’s a really good team coming in and they do pretty much everything well,” Beal said. “They had their fair share of ups and downs throughout the year, but I think over the last couple of games, they have it figured out.

“We’re going to have our hands full. We always know we do playing this team. The biggest thing is we can’t get overwhelmed by anything that they do.”

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