Wesley Matthews shooting -- and on target -- for (relatively) quick return
On the first day back at the Trail Blazers' Tualatin practice facility since his March 11 Achilles tendon surgery, Wesley Matthews worked his way around the court on a scooter, displaying a shooting touch that the Wheel Blazers could admire.
With assistant coaches feeding him the ball and members of the media watching, Matthews -- who participated in the 3-point contest at the NBA All-Star Game in February -- went station to station from beyond the stripe, launching while using only his upper body.
With the left leg protected from weight-bearing activity by the scooter, Portland's veteran shooting guard fired until he made five shots from a station. It took him seven attempts from the left corner, 12 from the left wing, seven from the top, eight from the right wing and seven from the right corner.
That made Matthews 25 for 41 in his exhibition from the 3-point line -- not bad for an able-bodied player, much less someone not using his legs.
"I'm planning on making my Game 6 return," Matthews deadpanned as met with reporters afterward. "Pure spot-up shooter, spacer. (Opponents would) have to respect it still. I could give you, like, seven points right now."
To which Blazers coach Terry Stotts cracked, "If he's on the active list, he'll be in at the end of a game. We'll put him in the corner; he can make a 3."
Matthews would give anything to be in the lineup Sunday night when the Blazers open their best-of-seven first-round series at Memphis. He'll be on the bench, in suit and tie, cheering his teammates on and offering counsel, he says.
"They respect what I've done on the court, who I am as a teammates, as a person, as a leader," Matthews said. "I'm not going to say stuff just to say it.
"I want them to win. I want to win as much as possible. If I see something, I'm going to point it out, and everybody is expected to do it, whether it's a big or a guard."
I'm not sure Matthews has that kind of authority, but it's certain that if he says something, his teammates will listen. He'll make the long trip to Memphis with the Blazers and be as much a part of things as he can, if only because he has been driven stir crazy by inactivity.
"You ever had a cast on for five weeks you couldn't move and you're stuck to a house?" Matthews asked rhetorically. "We could go anywhere. Alaska? I'm there. "This is who I am. I'm a gym rat. I want to be a part of basketball as much as possible. I want to be part of this team as much as possible. It's the playoffs."
The cast went off the left foot on Thursday, in its place a protective boot that will be Matthews' partner through the rehab process that normally takes up to a year to complete. On March 5, the night that awful injury occurred in a win over Dallas at Moda Center, Matthews promised a much quicker recovery.
"What did I say -- five months?" he said. "You think I'd kid about that? I said I'll be back in five months. Somebody did it four. (Five months) is a goal. I'm not going to say eight. Try to get back in five."
Matthews may already be ahead of schedule. After getting his cast off Thursday, doctors recommended he use crutches for another week.
"They said it depends on how much weight you can bear and how comfortable you are putting your weight down" on the foot, Matthews said. "I just told them to keep them, and I walked out of there."
The reality that Matthews will miss the postseason he said, has "set in." But the return to the practice facility and a day spent with Portland's coaches and players was a welcome change.
"Now that I'm able to be more mobile and do my own stuff and better myself as a player, it distracts me a little bit more," Matthews said. "I'm excited to be around the team.
"Today was a fun day for me. It was long as hell, though. I forgot how long (video) sessions are in the playoffs. They (especially) suck when you can't play. But I'm going to be out here for these guys as if I were playing."
Matthews will become a free agent on July 1. Will he be a Blazer again next season?
"There are a lot of things that could happen in between then," he said. "Right now, my focus is on this team and going to the playoffs, and everything I can do to get this Achilles better."