By: Jim Eichenhofer,

He grew up in Los Angeles, starring as a teenager for local basketball powerhouse Westchester High School. He played collegiately for the citys historically successful program, UCLA. He even won an NBA championship as the starting small forward for its storied NBA franchise, the Lakers. Based on that history, it seems appropriate that Trevor Arizas first playoff appearance as a member of the New Orleans Hornets was scheduled to take place at the Staples Center, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.

The last time the basketball world saw Ariza on a postseason stage, the 6-foot-8, 210-pound lockdown defender joined his Lakers teammates in celebrating the franchises 2009 NBA title. As Ariza stood on the podium with Lakers stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, it was the culmination of a long journey (he had previously been a role player in the NBA for New York and Orlando) that started and ended in the same place.

That memory is one reason why Ariza appreciates being back in the spotlight of the postseason, after missing out in 2010. As an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 09, Ariza signed with Houston. The Rockets exceeded many observers expectations, but fell just shy of qualifying for the Western Conference playoffs.

Despite sitting out the postseason with the Rockets last year, Ariza still easily has the most playoff experience (35 career games entering 2011) among current Hornets players, even though hes only 25 years old. In fact, the 23 playoff appearances he made just in the spring of 09 are more than every other New Orleans roster member, aside from David West and D.J. Mbenga.

Getting back in the playoffs is something Im very grateful for, Ariza said. Im grateful that we have a team that works as hard as it does, and coaches who do the same. It feels good to be back in this position.

Generally soft-spoken around the media, the seven-year NBA veteran downplays the motivation he might get from facing his former teams, such as the Rockets and Lakers. He doesnt think he or his teammates need any additional incentive, anyway. Six Hornets had never been to the playoffs prior to 2011, including fellow starters Emeka Okafor and Marco Belinelli.

These guys are hungry, Ariza said of the team. This is their first experience for some of them. They want to do their best. When you have players who are hungry to win, you dont have to tell them much.

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