Hornets’ DJ Mbenga, Trevor Ariza relish opportunity to play against former Lakers teammates
He sat in his apartment in New Orleans and watched the Lakers’ championship ring ceremony Oct. 26, his emotions starting to get the best of him.
He fought back the tears that welled up as the memories of winning back-to-back championships with the Lakers began to flood his thoughts.
Eventually, DJ Mbenga just enjoyed the moment, enjoyed watching his former Lakers teammates get their championship rings.
He had joined the New Orleans Hornets rather than stay with the Lakers because he sought more money and more playing time.
Wednesday night, Mbenga played against the Lakers for the first time.
“It was hard for me to make my decision to go,” Mbenga said. “The hardest part was when I was in my room watching the ring ceremony. That was hard. You can feel that you’re not there. But, it’s business. It’s basketball. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”
Mbenga, who was a Staples Center fan favorite, will be presented his championship ring when the Hornets play the Lakers in Los Angeles on Jan. 7.
He’ll return with another former Laker, Trevor Ariza.
Ariza first left the Lakers after the 2009 championship, signing with the Houston Rockets.
But the Rockets traded Ariza to the Hornets last summer.
“It’s a transition I’m still getting used to,” Ariza said.
Though Ariza is more than a year removed from playing with the Lakers, his feeling about his former teammates haven’t changed.
“They are cool people and I like them personally,” said Ariza, who attended Westchester High and UCLA. “But on the court I hate them. I like them off the court, but on the court, it is what it is.”
Ariza wasn’t much of a factor against the Lakers.
He scored four points on one-for-two shooting. He did have four assists, but he also had four turnovers and four fouls.
He entered the game averaging 10.5 points per game. He’s making 36.8% of his shots, 25.4% of his three-point attempts.
“My season has been up and down,” Ariza said. “But it’s an experience. I enjoy every day.”
The Hornets started the season strong with an 11-1 record.
But they have struggled of late and are 18-14 after losing to the Lakers, 103-88, on Wednesday.
“We haven’t been playing consistent basketball,” Ariza said. “We’re one team one day and one team another day. It’s something I have to deal with. It’s something we all have to deal with. We have to work our way through it. We’ve got to find away to hold each other accountable for the things that we do.”
Mbenga signed a one-year, $854,000 contract with the Hornets.
His goal was to get more playing time, something that was hard for Mbenga to come by with Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.
Mbenga played 13 minutes, scored two points and grabbed two rebounds against the Lakers.
“So far, it’s working for playing time,” Mbenga said. “I’m doing what I want to do. I play defense, block some shots. So far, it’s good.”
As soon as Mbenga entered the game in the second quarter, he looked at the Lakers’ bench.
The Lakers all began talking trash.
“We were talking [trash] on the bench to each other,” Mbenga said. “I was talking [trash] back to them. I was going against Andrew. It was just fun. It was a good time. It was just like in practice.
“In the beginning, it was kind of emotional because I’ve played with them and now I’m playing against them. After that, it was enough. I play like I played in practice. But it was just good to see the guys.”
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