The Los Angeles Lakers were hopeful that the size and defensive prowess of Trevor Ariza would change the outlook of their team when he returned from an ankle injury. However, he was extremely slow out of the gates, struggling from beyond the arc and keeping up with younger and quicker wings.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel quickly opted against Ariza and in favor of Stanley Johnson in the rotation. Ariza received four DNPs in L.A.’s last seven games, but may have earned himself a spot after a great performance against the New York Knicks.
Ariza played 35 minutes against the Knicks, scoring 11 points, grabbing eight rebounds, and collecting three assists while playing strong defense. He was a plus-11 on the night and was instrumental in the team’s comeback win.
Vogel had high praise for the veteran forward after their 122-115 overtime victory. “I’ll start with Trevor. It’s tough to come back from an injury like he had and to not get consistent minutes trying to find your rhythm,” Vogel said. “He had a tough go.
“He had a couple tough games when he was trying to get his legs back under him and whatnot while Stanley [Johnson] was playing well. So he fell out of the rotation for a couple games, but he’s kept a good attitude and has stayed ready. He’s done this for a long time. He knows what it takes to get it done on the defensive side of the bask and to be a catch-and-shoot shooter. He was terrific tonight.”
Prior to the game, Vogel hinted at the possibility of Ariza getting a bigger chance against the Knicks, but recognized why Johnson has been getting opportunities ahead of him. “Well, I think two things have happened. First, I think Stanley’s just overall energy, toughness and juice has earned him some of those minutes.
“I also think that Trevor is coming off ankle surgery and I think we saw a little bit of that with the way Trevor was moving when he first came back. It wasn’t quite where he needs to be and he’ll continue, if he’s getting regular minutes, he’ll continue to just get a little bit stronger with his movements every game.”
When he’s at his best, Ariza gives the Lakers exactly what they need in terms of a versatile three-and-D wing player. It’s exactly why the Lakers had been persistent in their pursuit of Jerami Grant, to no avail. The Lakers desperately need reliable wing players, and Ariza has the ability to provide that.
After Saturday, it would not be surprising to see Ariza get another shot as a part of the regular rotation. If he slows down again, he’ll stop getting minutes. But if he can build on his performance against the Knicks, it could drastically help L.A. get back on track.
Russell Westbrook shifting focus after being benched
Another big rotation decision by Vogel against the Knicks was the benching of Russell Westbrook during the overtime period. After the game, Westbrook spoke about the choice and how it affected him.
“The best part about this game is when you win,” Westbrook said. “Guys competed and we got the win, that’s all that matters.
“Honestly, I was just playing. Trying to figure out just how to win the game. It’s not about me, it’s not about what I’m doing. It’s about the team. That’s what is most important and that’s all that matters.”
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