It's a win, but a big loss, for Blazers: Matthews out for season
The mood in the Trail Blazers' Moda Center locker room was solemn Thursday night, even after a 94-75 dismantling of the Dallas Mavericks.
The Blazers had a large burden to bear.
Shooting guard Wesley Matthews was lost for the season, victim of a torn left Achilles' tendon that will require surgery.
It was almost as if the franchise had suffered another death, so soon after the loss of Jerome Kersey. Not quite, of course, but the atmosphere was funereal.
"He's the heart and soul of the team," LaMarcus Aldridge said. "I've played with him for seven or eight years now. Not having him out there is going to be tough."
It has actually only been five seasons, but you get the idea of Matthews' impact.
"Wes plays harder than anybody on our team," Damian Lillard said. "He plays with a lot of passion. A lot goes into being Wes Matthews. It's hard for our team to think about not having him out there, just because of the energy he brings.
"A freak injury happens. you hate to see it happen to anybody, but having a friendship with him he's going to be missed."
Matthews entered the Blazers' locker room a half-hour after the game, wearing a protective boot over his left foot. The player nicknamed "Iron Man" for his toughness and durability then bravely answered questions from media after the most serious injury of his six-year NBA career.
"It's disbelief," he said. "I'm sitting up there in that MRI tube I can't believe I'm up there while my team is battling. I haven't processed all of it yet. I came out and (doctors) said it was torn. I knew it, but "
The injury happened early in the third quarter when Matthews' left leg splayed when he received a pass while cutting.
"I make that same cut hundreds and thousands of times in my life," Matthews said. "I felt the initial pop and it felt like someone kicked (me). I was praying that someone was back there. I heard Ron (Garretson, the referee) say, 'Oh no.' He knew."
Matthews said the left Achilles' tendon had been sore for some time, "but I take care of it," he said. "Massage and the pregame stuff and everything I've been doing. I don't know if it has anything to do with that, or (if it is) just some fluke stuff."
When is the surgery?
"I'd do it tonight if I could," he said.
Has he been given an estimate on the recovery period?
"What's the normal timetable -- eight months?" he asked, smiling slightly. "I'll try to be back in five."
Matthews was asked again about his feelings.
"I'm frustrated," he said. "They say everything happens for a reason. When I was up in that tube, I was thinking, 'What was this reason? What was it?' I can't find it right now. It's bigger than me."
His teammates were searching for answers, too.
"(Normally) when he falls down, he's going to get up under his own power," Lillard said. "I walked toward 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 a sprain or something. Now we have to keep supporting him."
"It's a tough one to take," veteran guard Steve Blake said. "He's a warrior, a guy I respect a ton with how hard he plays. He's an integral part of this team with what he brings. It's a tough loss for us."
"He's an overall great player," Aldridge said. "He plays both ends, sets the tone for us in every way -- talking to guys, keeping everybody in it. He does everything for this team."
Matthews' day-to-day presence will be missed.
"It's so much bigger than just what he does on the floor," Lillard said. "It's the energy he brings every day at the practice facility -- coming in with a smile, cracking a joke. You know what you're going to get from Wes every day. I wouldn't be surprised if he's still that person, but it sucks he won't be on the floor with us."
Arron Afflalo -- acquired just two weeks ago in a trade deadline deal with Denver -- moves into Matthews' spot in the starting unit.
"You never really make up for it -- he's that important to us," Blake said. "But we have some guys who will step up and do the best they can. Arron's a proven starter in this league. I'm sure he'll take over that spot. I'll probably play more; CJ (McCollum) will play more. We'll have to do our best.
"We'll fight through it. With the character guys we have on this team, we'll do everything we can to overcome it. But it's tough to make that up."
"You can't replace who Wes is and what he's meant to this organization," Aldridge said. "They're going to help us, but they won't be him."
Matthews will do what he can to stay involved. He's in an odd situation in that his contract runs only through this season. On July 1, he will become a free agent. It seemed likely that he would re-sign and remain a Blazer. Now
"This team has something special still," he said. "I believe in that. I feel they do, too. We'll all weather this. I'll do what I need to do; the team will do what it needs to do. Hopefully, we'll meet again."
NOTES: The Blazers' next game is Saturday night at Minnesota. Portland coach Terry Stotts declined comment on Matthews, even after learning of his prognosis. "Right now, I don't want to say anything," he said. Aldridge scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Blazers (41-19), who won their fifth straight. It was his 31st double-double of the season. Nicolas Batum collected 15 points, a season-high 12 rebounds and six assists while Lillard had 14 points, six rebounds and five assists and Robin Lopez accumulated 13 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Dallas shot .375 from the field and made only 2 of 16 attempts from 3-point range. "It was a very good defensive game for us," Stotts said. "Our defense was locked in throughout the game for what we wanted to accomplish, individually and collectively." Portland broke open a tight game with a 31-point third quarter for a 71-57 lead. The Mavericks never cut the deficit to fewer than 10 points the rest of the way. The victory gave the Blazers the season series with the Mavericks 2-1. Dallas was without small forward Chandler Parsons, who sat out the game with an ankle injury. The Blazers are 9-4 in the second of back-to-back games. Dallas had 57 points after three quarters, the fewest for any Portland opponent this season.
Fan Chris Germain sank a half-court shot between the third and fourth quarters to win a new Toyota Avalon. Portland's remaining schedule has 12 games against teams with winning records, 10 against teams with losing marks. Stotts said he was impressed by Lillard's career-best 18-rebound game in Wednesday's overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers on a night when the All-Star point guard was 1 for 13 from the field. "When you're a scorer and you're not seeing the ball go in, a lot of times that can take away your energy, your will," Stotts said. "It speaks a lot to how important winning is to him." Blazer center/forward Joel Freeland, who went scoreless with three rebounds while playing the game's final 1:46, is working his way back after missing 23 games with a left shoulder injury. The problem is the number of players competing for playing time at center and power forward, including starters Aldridge and Lopez and reserves Chris Kaman, Meyers Leonard and Dorell Wright. "There are no (physical) restrictions, but Joel hasn't had a chance to do a lot of five-on-five," Stotts said. "His practice time has been limited. I'm not reluctant to put him in a game. but there's a logjam coming off the bench at that position." Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was an assistant coach with the Trail Blazers under P.J. Carlesimo from 1994-97. "I have a lot of fond memories from my three years here," he said. "I met a lot of interesting, great people. It's always great to come back. And it's a very hard place to place, which heightens the challenge."
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