If there's any doubt over whether or not the Wizards should make every effort possible to retain Trevor Ariza when he becomes a free agent -- and they will -- his defense vs. Carmelo Anthony on Friday night should settle it. Yes.
Ariza held Anthony, who said afterward he was having issues with his right (shooting) shoulder, to 10 points on 5-for-14 shooting. He missed all four of his three-point attempts and was responsible for nine turnovers. Of course, Trevor Booker, Martell Webster, Marcin Gortat, John Wall and others helped out, too. And Ariza, yet again, fought through illness for the second time this season to contain a superstar scorer.
"He's barely standing," Gortat said. "He wasn't 100 percent ready to play but he did great."
Every time Anthony touched the ball, the plan was to force it out of his hands. And when he did get it, Ariza was able to keep Anthony from getting to his favorite spots. Anthony scored six points in the first half and didn't score in the second half until he made a mid-range jumper with 4:32 left.
"It was a great team effort. Trust me. Our defense was pretty good," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "But Trevor's defense on Carmelo was outstanding. Book gave us some really good minutes against him. All you can do is try to make it as hard as you can on a guy like that.
"Trevor fought him and fought him. Didn't stop on the screens. Just kept coming."
A lethal three-point shooter himself, Ariza didn't have much impact on the offensive end with 10 points. He only took nine shots. Bradley Beal made what proved to be the game-winning shot with 23 seconds left. "I had to save all my energy for the defensive end," Ariza said. "We have other scorers. I knew I was going to have a marquee matchup."
The Knicks, however, had a final chance. They got the inbounded to Ray Felton with 13 left. He made a difficult handoff to Anthony, with Ariza jumping the play. As Anthony turned the corner several feet outside the three-point line, Wall was waiting for him to possibly contest or draw the charge. Anthony lost the ball and the play ended with a desperation heave from J.R. Smith at the buzzer.
Ariza did something similar earlier this season when the Wizards knocked off the Miami Heat 114-97 on Jan. 15. LeBron James scored 25 points but it was deceiving. He shot 8-for-18 and never really was in a groove. He only had five points in the final quarter as the Heat couldn't mount a comeback. And Ariza did it despite playing with the flu. He was even better vs. Anthony, who has better post-up ability.
Ariza is making $7.7 million in the final year of his deal and is shooting a career-high 41.8% from three. He'll be in high demand because he's 6-8, can stretch the floor with his shooting range, defends the toughest position on the floor and is an excellent help defender as evidenced by his countless ball deflections.
He'll get a raise. Keep in mind that Ariza, who isn't as effective shooting off the dribble, is tied at the hip to Wall offensively. It's Wall's dribble penetration that sets the table for the spot up three-point shots.
The combination works. The Wizards will offer to pay him, though the length of the deal could be more of the issue than the dollars per year for the 29-year-old. The question is whether or not Ariza wants to stay and see where this team goes from here, or possibly he'd take less to play for a championship contender.