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Wesley Matthews making the right adjustments in his Lakers bench role

Lakers guard Wesley Matthews goes up for a basket over Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jake Layman and center Ed Davis.
Lakers guard Wesley Matthews goes up for a basket over Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jake Layman, left, and center Ed Davis during a Lakers win on Dec. 27.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

His career was built as a starter, but the Lakers have asked venerable veteran Wesley Matthews to become a key role player off the bench.

Without pause, Matthews has accepted his new responsibility.

Matthews started his first game as a Laker on Friday night against the Chicago Bulls, but that was because guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was out with a sprained left ankle that has him listed as questionable for Sunday’s game at Houston. Anthony Davis (right adductor strain) and LeBron James (left ankle sprain) also are questionable.

Over his first 11 seasons, Matthews started 729 of 791 games, including all 67 he played last season with the Milwaukee Bucks.

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He said it “absolutely” has been an adjustment coming off the bench for the Lakers.

“If you’ve been doing something one way for a decade, you kinda get used to that, you kinda develop habits, you develop routines,” Matthews said in a videoconference after Friday night‘s 117-115 victory over the Bulls. “I just kinda take it all in stride. This year has been [an] unconventional year all across the board.

Five takeaways from the Lakers’ game against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night, when role players helped make up for Anthony Davis sitting out.

“So if there was a time to come off the bench, I think it would be now, where everything is an adjustment. Daily life is an adjustment. It kinda just fits with the mold of how everything is going right now. You gotta get comfortable being uncomfortable. And this is just only going to make me better. I’m ready for whenever my name is called with whatever role it is.”

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Constant conversations with Frank Vogel helped ease Matthews’ mind regarding his role on a Lakers team that won the NBA championship last season. Matthews said Vogel was “probably the best communicator as a coach that I’ve had on this early season.”

“He communicates very well about whatever is going on in his lineup, whatever he’s thinking,” Matthews said. “So, that gives you comfort. When you know when you’re coming in, when you’re coming out, you can start usually preparing yourself and you can get ready and then you can start watching the game a little bit differently. He’s a great communicator so far with me and that really helps my curve here.”

Lakers guard Wesley Matthews warms up before a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Lakers guard Wesley Matthews warms up before a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Dec. 27.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Matthews will have his hands full when the Lakers take on the Rockets on Sunday and Tuesday in Houston, particularly defending the dangerous James Harden.

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Harden can be even more difficult to defend because he not only scores 27 points per game, ranking seventh in the NBA, he also is a willing passer, his 11.3 assists tied for the league lead.

He’s third in the NBA in three-point attempts (9.7) and tied for seventh in three-pointers made (3.7), making them at a 37.9% clip.

“It’s the same approach for anybody. You want to make everybody uncomfortable,” Matthews said. “As far as the schemes and all that kind of stuff, yeah, that varies depending on the team, depending on time, score, situations and all that kind of stuff. But he’s a great scorer. He’s one of the best scorers that this game will ever see and so you just got to make things tough. Got to make him think a little bit more, stop letting the game come so naturally.”

Lately, Matthews has added more offense to his defensive abilities. He started the season missing his first eight three-pointers, but he has recovered to the point where he is shooting 41% on his triples.

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Wesley Matthews of the Lakers said it was ‘disheartening’ to hear that a white police officer wouldn’t face criminal charges for shooting Jacob Blake, a Black man.

He’s a career 38.1% three-point shooter, so it’s no surprise to Vogel that Matthews is making them.

“Well, he’s a good shooter,” Vogel said Friday night after Matthews made four long-range shots in a row during the third quarter. “I always believe the ball’s going in when Wes shoots it. He didn’t start hot out of the gates, but it was never anything I worried about. I think if we continue to work on shot quality, he’s going to knock down threes. He’s shown that throughout his career. So it was just a matter of him getting quality shots.”

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When: 4 p.m. PST, Sunday.

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Update: The Lakers have won their first four games on the road and are 12th in the NBA in scoring (113.9), second in field-goal percentage (49.1%) and sixth in three-point shooting (38.9%). The Rockets are 10th in scoring (114.3), third in three-point attempts (38.3) and 10th in makes (13.4) while shooting 35.1% from deep.


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