Ariza, Okafor could be benched tonight

Ariza, Okafor could be benched tonight
November 21, 2012, 4:15 pm
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When the Wizards visit the Atlanta Hawks tonight at Philips Arena [7 p.m., CSN] coach Randy Wittman will experiment with his third different starting lineup.

And there’s a good chance that for the first time this season Trevor Ariza or Emeka Okafor, possibly both, will be on the bench at the start of tonight’s game.

With Trevor Booker questionable with a right knee sprain and Nene also questionable with persistent pain in his left heel, Wittman could give Seraphin his first start of the season.

Ariza and Okafor are coming off one of their least productive games. In Monday night’s 96-89 loss to the Indiana Pacers Ariza finished with six points, two assists and five rebounds while playing a season-low 13 minutes. Okafor had a season-low one point and one rebound in just 9 minutes.

Both players watched the fourth quarter from the bench while Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker and Earl Barron went to work on cutting a 20-point deficit down to one.

“When you’re not playing to the level that we need to be playing and I've got somebody else sitting there that I feel is going to give me that, I've got to go with that,” Wittman said. “That's a gut feeling. That's coaching. That's all that is.”

In his nine games with the Wizards, Ariza has had just three above-average performances. He managed 15 points and 8 rebounds in a 101-91 loss to Milwaukee; 19 points and six rebounds in a 92-76 loss to Charlotte; and 16 points and 9 rebounds in an 83-76 loss to Utah.

In his other six games, Ariza is averaging 5.7 points and 3.8 rebounds.

Asked to evaluate his play, Ariza responded, “Up and down.”

Asked what he would like to do better, he said, “Everything. I want to everything better. I want to do everything I can to try to get this team a win.”

Wittman was far more direct with his criticism, saying Ariza can be deadly when he has an open shot, but not when he’s forcing them.

“Shot selection is the main thing,” Wittman said. “From an offensive standpoint, contested shots is not a good thing for him. He's not that type of player. Open shots, where he's spotted, he makes clearly a higher percentage of those. He needs to attack the basket off the dribble much more. He's just settling for contested jump shots. That's where his high and low is.”

Ariza said he understands Wittman’s decision to bench him in the fourth quarter, even if he may not have agreed with it.

“He has six new players that he’s trying to feel out,”  Ariza said. “He’s trying to find combinations to work with, to be consistent, so I do understand the process. We’re searching for wins, so everything goes.”

Okafor also has struggled with consistency in his first few weeks with the Wizards. Three times he’s reached double figures in scoring and on Saturday night against Utah he pulled down a season-high 14 rebounds. The next game against Indiana he managed just one point and one rebound.

“[Monday night] was probably one of his worst games,” Wittman said. “That's basically all it boils down to. He's got 14 rebounds then one rebound. Fourteen is Herculean, good effort. I'm not expecting him to average 14. And you can go from 14 to seven or eight. That's a solid game. It's the fluctuation from one game to the next when it gets in my mind, ‘Now, who do I play?’”

We’ll find out tonight at 7:30.