The Washington Wizards were surging in third quarter against the Houston Rockets with John Wall scoring, assisting and talking trash. The playful words weren't for a player in the game, but an old teammate watching from the visitor's bench while nursing a bad back.
"[John] was yelling at me," said a smiling Trevor Ariza. "I don't know what he was saying."
The words didn't matter as much as the passion Wall generated. Ariza, now a starting forward with the Houston Rockets, understood this based on two seasons and one playoff appearance with Wall in Washington. He also recognized the point guard's growth even if Houston left town with the 109-103 win.
"He plays off of emotion," Ariza said of Wall. "He's one of those players who feeds off of that type of energy. He's definitely gotten a lot better. His tempo is amazing. His vision is unbelievable. I'm happy to be able to see his growth."
Wall may play of emotion, but Ariza remains the king of chill. The 6-foot-8 forward still speaks with a relaxed cadence, though his competitive nature isn't hard to unearth.
That's what drove Ariza to test out his bruised back pregame even though the Rockets suspected he wouldn't play. The injured occurred in the first quarter of Tuesday's road loss against the Brooklyn Nets. The absence snapped a streak of 173 straight games played. The streak began in Washington during the 2013-14 season. Ariza signed a free agent contract with Houston the following summer.
"I tried, but it's just real sore," Ariza said of the back injury. "I couldn't do things that I'm normally able to do so there was no sense in going out there."
At least the trip wasn't a total loss.
"Yeah, I enjoyed my time [in Washington]. I wish I could have played here. ...I'm happy we were able to get a win and at least I was here to see it, see the fans," said Ariza, who ducked into the Wizards locker room after the game.
Wall finished with 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds. Half of his points came in the third quarter as Washington rallied following a slow start.
"We were just joking," he said of the words with Ariza. "It was a fun part of the game."
The early part of the season hasn't been much fun for the Rockets (11-12). One season after reaching the Western Conference finals, Houston fired head coach Kevin McHale after a 4-7 start. The record reached 5-10, but Ariza and crew have since won six of eight games under new coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
"Losing our coach was an unfortunate situation because he was well liked in here," Ariza said of McHale. "Sometimes that's what happens in business. We have to continue to get better, continue to trust each other and just play as hard for 48 minutes as we can."
The 3-and-D threat ranks third on Houston this season with 11.6 points per game and remains one of the top perimeter defenders in the NBA.
Beyond basketball, Ariza said, "life is great" as he headed with the team out of the arena and to the next stop. This stop has extra meaning. It's one where memories were made an old friend talks trash in your direction because that's what old friends do.