Wesley Matthews, odd man out of Lakers’ rotation, appreciated Frank Vogel’s honesty
Wesley Matthews was ready for the moment when it arrived Monday night at Staples Center, embracing it, staying prepared for it, delivering key plays when the Lakers called on him in a time of need against Oklahoma City.
It simply was a stellar effort by Matthews, his effort after not seeing any time for 10 days a testament to his professionalism and team-first attitude on this loaded and deep Lakers team.
Matthews scored 16 points in a 119-112 overtime win, shooting five for seven from the field and an even more impressive four of five from three-point range that helped put him in the NBA’s record books.
He had not played in four consecutive games, collecting DNP-CD in the books — did not play, coach’s decision. His last action was against the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 28, a game in which he was only one-for-five shooting from the field and scored just three points.
When Matthews signed as a free agent with the Lakers, he never imagined he would be sitting on the bench ready to play but not getting on the court.
“No, it didn’t make me second-guess anything,” Matthews said during a videoconference Monday night. “It’s just a matter of time. … Since entering this league, nothing has gone according to what I would have dreamed of being an NBA player. So truthfully, a setback or whatever this was, isn’t anything new to me. I’ve had to deal with adversity my whole career.
The Lakers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 119-112 in overtime at Staples Center without Anthony Davis, who sat out because of a sore Achilles tendon.
“It was unfortunate, but at the same time, it’s your job to be professional. It’s your job to stay ready, and I was able to do that with the help of my teammates, with the help of my coaches, help of my family, friends … help of God. Keeping my family and faith, and just staying ready. And just knowing whenever the time is called, it’s go time.”
Reserve guard Alex Caruso was out because of a right hand injury, opening the door for Matthews to step into that void on the wing. Anthony Davis was out because of right Achilles tendinosis, providing more minutes for Matthews to collect.
“Exceptional performance by Wes tonight,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said on a videoconference Monday. “You know, that’s the simplest way to prove it. Incredible energy, on both sides of the ball, but in particularly defensively. … With AD and Alex being out, we definitely needed his toughness on that side of the ball and he hit some big threes, where we couldn’t throw it in the ocean. So, he was great.”
For Matthews, it was great for the 12-year veteran to have Vogel be honest and communicate with the 6-foot-4 guard, that the rotation was being shortened and he was the odd man out.
That started with the game against the Boston Celtics, a game the Lakers won. And they kept winning, with Matthews on the bench at the ready but not playing.
“Just the fact that he’s having them. Just the fact that, it’s never going to be what I want to hear, I want to play every single game. That’s just the competitor that I am,” Matthews said. “So, I mean, he knows the conversation isn’t going to be easy. I know the conversation isn’t going to be easy. But the conversation needs to take place just so that you can get the best out of somebody. Had I not known that I wasn’t going to play, maybe I don’t do what I do pregame and then it doesn’t have the rollover effect of tonight. Conversations can be difficult. They need to be had and I didn’t love anything he had to say, but your job is to be professional. Your job is to play basketball and cheer on your teammates and be supportive and be a pro. And that’s it. Like Dudz [Jared Dudley] puts it, ‘Be a pro.’”
Matthews took out his frustrations of not playing during sessions against the Lakers assistant coaches, saying, “a little bit of everybody getting the business right now.”
When he made his third three-pointer of the game, Matthews passed Steve Nash for 24th on the NBA’s all-time three-point made list.
Matthews’ teammates let him know how much they appreciated his performance against the Thunder, how he never let his lack of playing become an issue, and they celebrated the milestone with him in the locker room after the game.
“The thing is, we did not even know,” LeBron James said about Matthews passing Nash. “But when he came into the locker room … He was the last one to come into the locker room and we all clapped it up for him, barked, everything, ‘Wes, that’s what we’re talking about. Big time.’ Dudz gave him the game ball tonight. He got that anyways. We didn’t even know that he passed Steve Nash tonight in all-time three-point shooting. That’s just big time. Any time you’re linked or pass or next to some of the greats who ever played the game, it’s a testimony to you as an individual. Happy to be a part of tonight and his ability to do what he did.”
With 2:11 left in the fourth quarter, Matthews was inserted into the game for Talen Horton-Tucker and, with the Lakers down 107-102, he hit a three-pointer, then knocked down another off a pass from James with 1:59 left in overtime to give the Lakers a seven-point lead.
Matthews acknowledged it is a constant struggle to maintain the right attitude when things aren’t going your way, but he has learned being a professional is always the best approach.
“It’s something I’m still continuing to work on,” Matthews said. “But when I was younger, anger. And I wouldn’t advise that because anger can only get you so far. But just work. Truly working and keeping your faith, whatever that may be for you. It’s different for everybody else. But me keeping my faith and me working, because all that does is just continues to build confidence so that when the moment like tonight happens, you’re ready for it. And you’re not angry that you’re not playing. You’re not angry that you’re not doing this. Because that can cloud your judgment, cloud your mentality going into the game.”
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