Trail Mix: Blazers 94, Mavericks 75
Thursday was a cruel reminder that, in the NBA, luck may be the biggest variable in who wins and who doesn’t.
The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Dallas Mavericks by 19 points, 94-75. Any other night the arena would have been rocking and the locker room wouldn’t have been so somber. But tonight the Moda Center knew deep down what they’d seen. It was one of those nights in the NBA where you know that everything changed. They’ve seen enough moments like that around these parts, which they had mostly started to forget.
The Blazers are just the latest to be bit by the injury bug this season, but this is the first injury that has an impact on who will make it out of octagon that is the Western Conference playoffs. The timing of the Matthews injury, after the loss of franchise legend Jerome Kersey, then a thrilling win in Los Angeles, just as they seemed to get things going with the addition of Afflalo, seemed cruel.
“I’m frustrated,” Matthews said. “You say everything happens for a reason, I was just in the tube, thinking what was this reason? I can’t find it right now. It’s bigger than me. And this team has got something special still. I believe in that. I feel that they do too. And we’ll all weather this. I’ll do what I need to do. This team will do what it needs to do.
Wesley Matthews knew what happened. Mostly everybody did. But the Blazers did not confirm until after the game when Matthews had been through an MRI. Matthews, ever the professional with the media, still came out to do his postgame availability.
He admitted that he knew. When I thought that he had rolled his ankle after the play, in no sooner than a minute did I get multiple replies saying they saw it was an achilles. And then the replays came. Referee Ron Garrettson knew when he saw Matthews go down. I could see that Nicolas Batum knew when I saw him explaining what he had just seen to assistant coach David Vanterpool.
The Blazers were obviously and understandably shook after the game.
Nicolas Batum was distraught. Damian Lillard, though, probably had the best quote when trying to sum up Matthews.
“Wes works hard,” Lillard said. “You know, plays harder than anyone on our team. plays with a lot of passion. A lot goes into being Wes Matthews.”
A lot goes into being Wes Matthews indeed. And all of those things that make him also make the Blazers.
“I think it’s hard for our team to think about not having him out there. Just to think about all he brings to the team. And the type of person that he is. You hate to see it happen to somebody like that. Underdog situation, becoming a starting two guard in the league. Really high level two guard in the league on both ends of the floor and then a freak injury happens. You hate to see it happen to anybody but having a friendship with him I hate to see it happen to him. He’s definitely going to be missed.”
Robin Lopez said it’s the intangibles that the Blazers are going to miss the most.
“I love playing with Wes, I always have,” Lopez said. “He brings a lot of tangible things and a lot of intangibles on the floor. You got to hope for the best.”
Lopez continued: “Obviously he’s a huge defensive presence for us as well. A big 3-point shooter. But the intangibles are what we are going to miss most. Fortunately we are going have him on the bench.”
As our sports editor Micah Rice wrote earlier this season, Matthews was more than just the fiery competitor on the court. He was the team’s big brother. The heart of the team. The
body slam chest bump that knocked Robin Lopez almost to the ground at the end of the line when the starting line-up is announced.
It was one of those nights that everything changed and even with the Afflalo trade, the Blazers can’t replace Matthews. It happened with the Nuggets in 2013. It happens every season when a team loses loses their contention hopes close to the playoffs.
The Afflalo trade is key now and we will all get to see a lot more Alonzo Gee than we anticipated. And the Blazers will need everybody to step up their play. Nicolas Batum in particular has to pick up the scoring load since Matthews is the team’s third-leading scorer. CJ McCollum played well before the Afflalo trade, but he’s going to have to bring consistency. And even then, there is no replacement for the heart, ability, guile and leadership that Matthews brings.
As Matthews heads into free agency, it couldn’t come at a worse time for him. For the Blazers, they lost their heart and soul.
- Steve Blake on Matthews: “He’s an integral part of this team,” Blake said. “Tough loss for us. You can never really make up for it. He’s that important to us. We got some guys that will step up and do the best they can. Arron’s a proven starter in this league so I’m sure he’ll move into that spot. I’ll probably play more, CJ will play more. We’ll have to do our best.”
- CJ McCollum on how his role will change: “I just got to continue to work hard. Even before Wes was hurt, I just continued to work hard. And I’m trying to get better, keep your body in shape and just try to stay mentally engaged. That’s important, stay engaged when you’re not playing. Now that he’s hurt, we’ll just continue to do the same stuff. Work hard, stay locked in and be ready to go if my number’s called.”
- Matthews was asked whether the achilles had bothered him before: “Yeah. But I take care of it. Do the massages, do the pre game stuff. Do everything that I’ve been doing. I don’t know if It has anything to do with that or just some fluke stuff.”
- On the recovery time: “I mean what’s the normal timetable? 8 months something like that? Ill try to be back in 5,” Matthews said.
- Matthews may love basketball more than anybody on the Blazers. He knows the adjustment that he can’t play is going to be a difficult one. “It’s going to be hard,” Matthews said. “And it’s going to be an adjustment for me. It’s going to be something I’m going to have to work on. It’s going to be something I have to embrace. Not coming back. I’m not coming back this season. And I still have to be there for my team this season. I still have to be there and I will be.”
- Lillard said he knew when he saw Matthews’ reaction to the fall. “Wes is a warrior. And if he falls down, he’s going to get up and at least get up on his own power. When I walked towards him and I saw the look on his face he looked kind of shocked. When he tried to get up on his own he couldn’t put his weight on that foot. I was hoping it was just a sprain or something. That was the last thing I was hopping for or thinking but now we got to keep supporting him.”
- The Blazers are 41-19 and 0.5 games up on the Rockets for the 3rd seed in the West. But without Matthews, the Blazers will likely be the team that “everyone wants to play” for the second straight postseason.