When Trevor Ariza woke up Jan. 15, he knew something wasn't quite right. He had a temperature of 101 and was feeling under the weather. Wizards coach Randy Wittman gave his starting small forward the morning off, hoping he'd be feeling better by game time.
Ariza was still feeling sick by tipoff, but said that not playing hadn't occurred to him. The Wizards were hosting the two-time defending champion Miami Heat that night, and Ariza's assignment was to guard LeBron James. Ariza came through, holding James to 44 percent shooting. His efforts helped the Wizards pull off a 114-97 win at Verizon Center.
Fast forward to Feb. 1 -- the Wizards had just completed a four-game road trip, and their first opponent back at Verizon Center was the league-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. Washington, D.C., native Kevin Durant, in the midst of one of the hottest shooting streaks of his career, had averaged 35.9 points per game for the month of January, and some analysts were putting him ahead of James in the MVP race. Not to mention that Durant had close to 100 family members and friends in attendance cheering him on.
Ariza's assignment that night was to guard Durant. And once again, Ariza came through. He held Durant to 38 percent shooting, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range. Ariza also led the Wizards in scoring with 18 points en route to a 96-81 win.
"As you saw, it was like a mirror," Wittman said. "Whenever Durant was on the floor, Trevor was on the floor, so he busted his tail tonight -- really great effort. There wasn't any letup in his intensity in that job that he had to do tonight."
When Washington plays tough defense and the players share the ball, they generally come away with a win. Ariza plays a critical role in that game plan, because he usually has to guard the other team's best player. He sounds as if he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I get the job of guarding the tough guy every night, so I just try to bring the same energy every night with whoever it is that I'm facing," Ariza said. "Whether it be [Kevin] Durant, LeBron [James], Carmelo [Anthony] or Kobe [Bryant], whoever it is, I just try to make them work for whatever they get."
His teammates understand what a difficult job he has, and appreciate how well and how unselfishly he gets it done, guard Bradley Beal said.
"That's what Trev's known to do," Beal said. "He's our best defender. We always put him on the top gun on the other team. He always accepts that challenge, and he accepted it today. He held [Durant] under 30, and he did a great job of just contesting and playing his heart out on defense."
Now in his 10th season, Ariza, 28, is on his sixth team, after stints with the New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets. He was traded to the Wizards in June 2012 along with center Emeka Okafor, who was dealt in October for center Marcin Gortat.
Ariza's been in the playoffs four times during his career and, like his Wizards teammates, isn't fond of going home at the end of the regular season and watching the playoffs on TV. He said he didn't expect that to happen this year.
"We feel like when we play our game and when we do what we know we are capable of, we can beat anyone and play anyone," Ariza said. "We have shown that numerous times. It is just a matter of being consistent with it. Once we find that consistency, I think we can be a really, really good team."