It had been 10 days since Lakers guard Wesley Matthews had seen the floor. But when coach Frank Vogel turned to him, with guard Alex Caruso out because of a hand injury, Matthews showed that he is a pure pro. He delivered his best game in a month, scoring 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field and 4-for-5 shooting from the 3-point line, bolstering the Lakers in a shorthanded, rough-and-tumble overtime win over Oklahoma City.
Matthews had been glued to the bench for four straight games, going back to January 28. On the season, he was averaging 4.7 points in 19.5 minutes, shooting 39.7% from the field and 36.4% from the 3-point line before Monday’s game.
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But Matthews made clear that he would remain ready and said he had been prepared for his benching by coach Frank Vogel.
“Just a lot of faith,” Matthews told Spectrum Sports in his postgame interview. “Keeping the faith. This was obviously something different for me. I credit my coaching staff for the communication and the consistent encouragement, my teammates, my friends, my family. But work, trusting everything I have done up to this point in my career. And just staying ready. It is about being a Laker, it is about being a pro, it’s about being the best you can be whenever your number is called, whenever your name is called.”
Wes Matthews Signed to Replace Avery Bradley
Matthews was signed in November to bolster the Lakers’ backcourt depth, with the thinking that he could help replace departed starting guard Avery Bradley, who left for Miami. Matthews, who was a starter for the Bucks last season, was given a one-year deal worth $3.6 million. He is 34 and in his 12th NBA season.
After a slow start in which he missed his first eight 3-point tries as a Laker, Matthews shot 51.6% from the 3-point line in his next six games.
But that was followed by a three-game absence because of an Achilles tendon injury. Matthews was not the same when he returned, averaging 2.7 points in seven games, with 26.1% shooting from the field and 25.0% shooting from the 3-point line.
That was when Lakers coach Frank Vogel benched him, at least until Caruso’s injury forced Matthews back into the lineup.
“Exceptional performance by Wes tonight,” Vogel said on 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.”
Wes Matthews: ‘I Want to Play Every Game’
The bigger issue, of course, is what happens with Matthews when Caruso is healthy? Caruso suffered jammed fingers on Saturday against Detroit, Vogel said, meaning Caruso would likely return quickly.
When he does, Matthews could move back to the bench. But Matthews said he understands the situation that Vogel is in with a crowded wing rotation, and he appreciated that Vogel had been honest with him about his benching.
Here is what Matthews told the media, via the L.A. Times:
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. 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.’