After practice on Tuesday, Trail Blazers starting guard Wesley Matthews discussed his preparation for the upcoming season, what his role is on the team, his thought on being described as a “3-and-D” player, getting “out of that box”, changes in defensive philosophies, a new emphasis on accountability and why he’s “gonna play my ass off as a Trail Blazer.”
You’ve talked a little about scaling back your workout regiment. How was this summer different for you?
Wesley Matthews: I had surgery, I had a PRP injection so I was forced to rehab. I was forced to not do anything for about a month and a half span that I usually would have been doing stuff.
Has that changed the way you’ve approached training camp?
Wesley Matthews: About the same thing. A lot of high reps, a lot of volume. Just trying to work myself back in shape, back into game speed.
You’re in your fifth year now. How have you changed as a person since coming into the league?
Wesley Matthews: Just kind of smarter. Just smarter about everything around me, everything that has to do with basketball, the business of basketball and everything that basketball brings.
What do you feel like your role is on this team this year?
Wesley Matthews: I don’t know. I’m sure my role is to defend, is to lead in some magnitude, but I’m always looking to redefine my role. I’ve never been the type to just let someone tell me what my role is and be content and complacent with that.
So you’re looking to flesh-out your role, rather than having it dictated to you.
Wesley Matthews: Yeah. I mean, my role is everything, do everything. Some nights I’m going to lead this team in scoring, some nights I’m not. Some nights I’m going to lead this team in steals, sometimes I might not. Some night lead the team in assists, some nights I might not. My role is to do everything and do everything well.
Is it important for teams to have players who fit specific roles or is that overblown?
Wesley Matthews: I think you have to have roles, but you also have to have people that can excel out of that role. Have a role but also do other things. That’s when teams excel.
Some would consider you a “three-and-D” players, as in, a wing player who shoots a good percentage from the three-point line and plays tough defense. What do you think about being categorized like that?
Wesley Matthews: I mean, that’s cool if that’s what they want to peg me as but I’m not going to read that and then that’s (all) I’m gonna do. Can I shoot threes? Yes. Can I play defense? Yes. Can I get to the basket? Yes. Can I rebound? Yes. Can I set people up? Yes. And that’s how I’m going to play. As soon as I start trying to get one or two dimensional, my worth goes down.
That makes sense. The team has more talent than last year, but it’s not like there’s so much talent that everyone can just “stay in their lane.”
Wesley Matthews: I mean, you’ve got to get out of that box. We’ve got to play basketball. Coach Stotts allows us to do that, our teammates allow you to do that. And that’s just what you’ve got to do. All your preparation all summer leads up this situation where, you know, everything’s not scripted. You can stage everything you want (in practice) but as soon as you get in the game, those guys on the other team, they train just like you do. The shot that you’re trying to draw up to get a wide open three might not be there.
The team brought in players this offseason that either play your position or have similar skills to your own, but Stotts has been steadfast in saying you’re the starter. Do you consider it a competition?
Wesley Matthews: Everything is a competition. Life’s a competition. I never want to back down from competition or shy away from it. It’s only gonna make me better, I’m only going to make them better.
I don’t know what my future holds here. I don’t look at any of that. Some people do; I’m not that kind of person. I’m here, I’m a Trail Blazer and I’m gonna play my ass off as a Trail Blazer.
Stotts has talked about changes some of the philosophies and schemes on defense. Has that changed the way you play defense?
Wesley Matthews: We’re covering pick and rolls differently, putting more emphasis on protecting the paint, protecting the rim and protecting the three-point line, try to get out of rotations. Basically be more accountable, hold yourself more accountable. Two people are in the pick and roll on offense so two people should be able to guard the pick and roll on defense.
You mentioned accountability, which is something Stotts has talked about numerous times during training camp. What does being more accountable mean for a player? What does that look like?
Wesley Matthews: You’ve got to be a professional. You’ve got to take criticism, you’ve got to make sure that your mind and body is ready to work every single day. You’ve got to make sure that you get your work done so that you can be prepared for whatever it is that is thrown at you the next day. And to make sure that you’ve taken care of everything that you can in your power so that you can make sure other people are held accountable.
You’ve been on the team a while now and played for three different coaches in that span. Was that something that was missing in the past?
Wesley Matthews: Nah, I think our personnel is just different. My first year here we had vets. B.Roy was here, (Marcus) Camby was here, Andre Miller was here, Joel Przybilla was here. They’ve been in the league just as long as some of the coaches. The next year with Gerald (Wallace) and Jamal (Crawford) and Ray (Felton), those guys had been around the league as well. Unless you completely harp on it right away, it’s tough to get that accountability.
With the young team that we had last year and this year, I think it’s easier because they don’t know any better. In college, you’ve got to be on time. There’s consequences for everything in college. There’s consequences in the NBA as well, but they’re different. Consequences are more your body in college. Here, you’re held to a professional standard. You come late to work, you get docked pay. You come late to practice, you get a fine. You don’t show up, you don’t play. That kind of thing.
The Trail Blazers will be looking for their seventh straight road win as they wrap up a run of four games in five nights tonight in Boston versus the Celtics at TD Garden (tipoff scheduled for 4:30 pm on CSNNW and 620 AM).
But before then, take a moment to relive last night’s game at Madison Square Garden though the lens of the Phantom Cam with this super slo-mo highlight reel featuring the best plays from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who combined to score 55 points on the way to beating the Knicks 104-85.
ESPN’s Chris Broussard interviewed Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum prior to Tuesday night’s 104-95 victory versus the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, with the topic focusing on the relationship between the two small-school guard products.
“Sometimes you have people trying to one-up the other, jealousy,” said Lillard when describing how he and McCollum get along on and off the court. “When one person wants to see the other guy do well, and the same goes both ways, it’s simple, it’s easy. And I think having an actual friendship away from the game makes that even easier.”
As is often the case, the friendship between McCollum and Lillard, which started before either player made it to the NBA, was formed out of shared experiences.
“I think we’ve got a really good relationship and it stems from having an understanding of where we both come from,” said McCollum. “He went to Weber, I went to Lehigh, two small schools. We weren’t McDonald’s All-Americans, we weren’t blue chips, we weren’t getting those thousand dollar handshakes early on, so we have an appreciation for what we’ve earned. We’re able to spent time off the court and I think that builds chemistry off the court.”
Near the end of Tuesday night’s victory versus the Nets, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard was treated for the first time to chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P” by fans at the Moda Center. While Lillard’s stat line of 34 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field, six assists, five rebounds and a steals was worthy of praise on its own, the “M-V-P!” calls on this night seemed to be more of an appreciation of an impressive series of performances that saw the 6-3 guard out of Weber State score at least 30 points in five consecutive games, all Trail Blazers’ victories.
“It felt like a ‘You’re Ours’ type of chant,’’ Lillard said after Wednesday’s practice. “It wasn’t even like a ‘You’re going to win MVP’ … It was more like, ‘If nobody else appreciates you, we appreciate you’ type of thing.”
But lately, that appreciation has not been unique to Trail Blazers fans. Now that the Trail Blazers are still in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, people outside of Rip City are starting to come around on Lillard’s MVP credentials. That includes NBA.com’s Sekou Smith, who puts Lillard at No. 6 in this week’s “Race To The MVP” rankings…
Lillard fueled the Trail Blazers’ six-game win streak that ended Thursday night against Houston and James Harden by scoring 30 or more points in five straight games, including that 51-point masterpiece in the upset win over the Golden State Warriors. He’s on a 10-game roll that has seen him average 28.4 points, 7.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals. He might have missed out on being selected for the Western Conference All-Star team, but Lillard’s revenge could be leading an underrated and overlooked Trail Blazers team to a playoff berth. They are in the hunt thanks to the leadership and play of the last man standing after the franchise’s summer overhaul.
This is the first time this season that Lillard has made the Top 10 in MVP rankings. He’s behind Clippers point guard Chris Paul at No. 5 and ahead of Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard at No. 7.
PORTLAND — The first two games this season between the Mavericks and Trail Blazers, the most recent taking place on Sunday afternoon in Dallas, went to overtime, with the Mavericks ultimately winning both contests. So it would make sense for Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts to mix things up a bit in the third and final regular season meeting.
So in Wednesday night’s game between the two teams in Portland, Stotts opted to start Maurice Harkless in place of Noah Vonleh while extending his rotation to 10 players in the process. And the result? A 109-103 victory in front of a sellout crowd 19,819 of at the Moda Center.
“A really big win for us,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We did a lot of good things. We certainly had some breakdowns here or there, but I liked our energy, I liked our fight, I liked our resilience bouncing back from last game. Our focus on some of the things we did differently with pick and rolls, we were pretty solid with it. This was certainly a game we needed to have.”
The Trail Blazers are now 37-35 overall and 22-12 at home this season. With the win, the Trail Blazers remain in 6th place in the Western Conference standings. They now trail the Memphis Grizzlies by four games for the 5th seed and are 1.5 games up on both the Mavericks and Jazz, teams tied for 7th at 35-36.
“You could tell both teams were playing for something,” said Damian Lillard. “It got a little chippy, there was a lot of emotions in the game, some swings in the game. It was a game that meant a lot to both teams.”
Portland had seven players finish in double figures, including all five starters. Lillard led the way with 27 points on 9-of-19 shooting from the field, 4-of-9 shooting from three and 5-of-5 shooting from the line to go with six assists, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 37 minutes.
Harkless, in his fourth start this season, put up 10 points in the first quarter, with eight of those points coming off dunks, before finishing with 14 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal in 25 minutes.
“Moe was huge for us, just to start the game on both ends of the floor with his length and his athleticism,” said Lillard. “He was really active. He disturbed a lot of the things they wanted to do early and then he got out and ran and got easy baskets, brought energy to the game.”
CJ McCollum finished with 14 points and four assists while Al-Farouq Aminu put up a double-double of 10 points, 10 rebounds in 36 minutes while drawing the task of defending Dirk Nowitzki.
“(Aminu) was really locked in,” said Stotts. “Obviously he had the responsibility with Dirk and that’s a big responsibility on pick and rolls and post ups and every possession he had to be locked in defensively. His offense was fine, but the importance of what he did defensively was key.”
While the change in the starting lineup help, it might have been the play of reserve big man Ed Davis that ultimately made the difference. The 6-10 center in his sixth season out of North Carolina had one of his best games, at least from a scoring perspective, as a Trail Blazer, finishing with 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 shooting from the free throw line.
“Ed gave us a lot of second chance opportunities,” said Lillard. “He was a monster on the glass and in the paint, he was finishing a lot of stuff. I thought he got fouled on a lot of them and he was just playing through it, he beasted up tonight.”
Davis also added nine rebounds, five on the offensive end, and three steals in 20 minutes.
“Ed, in the first half, his energy, his scoring, his rebounding,” said Stotts. “Ed is pretty solid but the first half he had really was really very impressive.”
The Mavericks got 22 points from former Trail Blazer Wesley Matthews on 6-of-10 shooting from three and 21 points after going 5-of-7 from three Sunday afternoon.
“It’s cool, not as cool because we didn’t win but the fans were awesome again,” said Matthews, who also added five rebounds, two assists and a steal in 41 minutes. “Much love and appreciation and respect for them. Would’ve felt better to get a win though.”
Even with Aminu shadowing him around the court, Nowitzki still managed to finish with 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting and nine rebounds in 36 minutes. Rookie center Salah Mejri added a double-double of 14 points, 12 rebounds in a starting role.
Next up, the Trail Blazers hop on a plane bound for Los Angeles to play the second night of a back-to-back on Thursday versus the Clippers. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm.
DALLAS — The Trail Blazers had a chance to get to .500 on their current road trip and even the season series versus the Mavericks with roughly 13 seconds to play Sunday afternoon in Dallas. Tied 113-113, Portland had the ball and the last possession with a chance to put the game away, but Damian Lillard’s three with 1.4 seconds to play in regulation missed the mark, sending the game to overtime.
Said Lillard: “We were going to play on one side of the court, so I gave (Deron Williams) a move, had him back up off of me, I stepped away from him, shot a shot that I’m really comfortable shooting and it just didn’t go in.”
Unfortunately for Portland, the same couldn’t be said for most of Dallas’ attempts thereafter, as Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams scored the first 11 points of the extra period to lift the home team to a 132-120 victory while securing the tiebreaker versus the Trail Blazers in front of a sellout crowd of 20,351 at American Airlines Center.
Portland is now 36-35 overall and 15-23 on the road this season. Despite the loss, the Trail Blazers remain in sixth place in the Western Conference standings, though their lead over both the Houston Rockets and Mavericks, two teams tied at 35-35, dropped to just a half game. What’s more, they own just a two-game lead over the ninth-place Utah Jazz after dropping seven of their last 10 games.
“We’ve played good teams,” said Lillard. “We shouldn’t feel bad about anything. OKC is a Top 3 team, San Antonio just beat the best team pretty good last night and Dallas is a good team. They’ve got vets, they know how to play. They haven’t played the greatest here, and at some point, you’ve got to turn it around. Tonight they shot the ball really well, so we shouldn’t feel bad about it. It would have been great to at least split the trip, but I think we go home feeling fine (about their chances of making the playoffs).”
The Trail Blazers took it to the Mavericks early in the game, hitting 6-of-12 three-pointers in the first quarter to help take a 36-25 lead into the second. But the Mavericks would find their footing over the next 24 minutes of the Sunday matinee in Dallas, outscoring Portland 65-46 in the second and third quarters to take 90-82 lead into the fourth.
But rather than folding in the last quarter of a four-game road trip, the Trail Blazers got themselves back into the game, hitting six three-pointers between the 10:46 and 5:51 marks of the fourth quarter to tie the game at 102-102. From there on, neither team would lead by more than two points in regulation, though that wouldn’t be the case in overtime, with the Mavericks all but putting the game away before the Trail Blazers managed to score in the extra period. Nowitzki would do most of the damage in the OT, outscoring the Trail Blazers 8-7 by himself to cap the victory.
“We lost a tough game, I thought we competed,” said CJ McCollum. “Besides overtime, we had some good looks, we didn’t make them. They hit shots after a couple possessions, a bunch of threes — I think they shot a really good percentage from three tonight — and we ended up losing. They did what they’re supposed to do on their home court.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who finished with 26 points on 8-of-26 shooting from the field, 4-of-10 shooting from three and 6-of-6 shooting from the free line. He also added eight assists and two rebounds in 44 minutes. CJ McCollum scored 22 points on 9-of-22 shooting and 3-of-8 shooting from three.
Mason Plumlee finished with career highs in both total rebounds with 19 and offensive rebounds with 10 while added 14 points for the double-double in 31 minutes. Allen Crabbe also put up a career high in made three-pointers with six to finish with 24 points in 36 minutes.
“I saw my first two go in so that kind of gave me confidence, I just kept shooting,” said Crabbe, who also grabbed five rebounds off the bench. “I got a lot of confidence from my teammates and the coaching staff. Regardless if I kept missing shots, whenever I came back to the bench they told me to keep shooting the ball. Don’t stop and don’t hesitate, just shoot it. That’s what they needed me to do. I knocked down the first two and I felt good, so I had a good night.”
Al-Farouq Aminu put up 12 points to round out Portland’s double-digit scorers.
The Mavericks were led by a season-high 40 points from Dirk Nowitzki, who also moved into a tie for 15th in NBA history in made three-pointers with 1,682.
“Guarding Dirk in a pick and roll is difficult and it always has been,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I know what a competitor he is and I know that he is someone who has these types of games. So what he did tonight I’ve seen it a few times.”
Deron Williams handed out a season-high 16 assists while going 11-of-18 from the field for 31 points while former Trail Blazer Wesley Matthews went 5-of-7 from three for 15 points to go with five rebounds and three assists. Reserve center Salah Mejri put up career-highs in rebounds (14) and blocks (six) while scoring 13 in the win.
Dallas shot 55 percent (49-of-89) from the field and 60 percent (15-of-25) from three for the game.
Next up, the Trail Blazers return home to host a rubber match versus the Mavericks at the Moda Center.
“The good news is we get the same team in a couple of day,” said Plumlee. “So it’ll be a really good game, make some adjustments. I think it’ll have a little of a playoff feel to play back-to-back the same team… Looking forward to it.”
Tipoff has been re-scheduled for 7 pm.
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard joined the Dan Patrick Show Thursday morning, and you can tell from the sound of his voice that he was a bit tired, which makes sense considering the team didn’t get into Toronto until well after 2 am after playing their fourth game in five nights, all in the Eastern timezone.
But ever the good soldier, Lillard made his interview on time, discussing topics such as his favorite rappers, playing four years at Weber State and not being named to the 2016 All-Star team. You can watch/listen to the interview below.
But the most interesting part of the conversation occurs when Patrick asks Lillard’s opinion on Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s idea of moving back the three-point line. Lillard is pretty cool on the idea, which you would expect from someone who is averaging over eight three-point attempts this season, though he goes on to note that he would be in favor of adding a four-point line, which makes sense considering…