Postgame: Wesley Matthews
Mavs SG Wesley Matthews weighs in on his team-high 21 points in Sunday's win over Philly.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but fortunately shooting isn’t as complicated as city planning. For Wesley Matthews, maybe one day is all it takes to bust out of a slump.
Matthews scored 21 points on Sunday night, his highest single-game total since Jan. 5. The performance ended a stretch in which he reached double-digits just twice in 10 games. His three three-pointers also ties for his most in a game this month.
“The shot was going a little bit tonight. I still missed a couple 3s that I normally feel like I would make, but they all felt good,” Matthews said. “That’s a step. But above anything else, we got a big win that we needed.”
That Dallas won isn’t a surprise. The Mavs are 5-1 this season when Matthews scores at least 20 points and 8-4 when he scores at least 17. It’s not difficult to grasp those numbers: When Matthews fills it up, Dallas wins.
During that recent 10-game stretch, Matthews shot 32.6 percent from the field and 24.5 percent from deep. Some chalked it up to the Mavs’ busy January schedule which saw them play 19 games in a span of 32 days. Rick Carlisle and the rest of the Mavs, meanwhile, said they had to find more creative ways to put Matthews in a position to score the ball, rather than just rely on him exclusively as a spot-up shooter. The latter certainly came to fruition Sunday night, when Matthews scored out of the post three times in the third quarter alone as he jump-started an offensive explosion to give Dallas serious separation against Philadelphia.
The goal, of course, is for his Sunday night explosion to carry over into future contests, especially now that the season is nearing the homestretch. With just 25 games remaining and eight of the next nine games at home, now’s the time for the Mavs to make their push in the Western Conference standings, currently very close between seeds 5-9.
We’ve already seen one Matthews hot night ignite a prolonged run of efficiency this season. Matthews’ 36-point, 10-trey performance against Washington in early December was the first in a 24-game stretch during which he averaged 14.3 points per game on 42.3 percent shooting from the field and 39.7 percent on 7.3 3s per game. If he can return to that form — especially given the way Deron Williams and Chandler Parsons have performed lately — the Mavericks can do some damage as the club heads into the last turn.
One shouldn’t forget just what exactly Matthews has been up against this season, recovering from a ruptured Achilles which ended his 2014-15 season prematurely and forced him into a offseason of rehabilitation. Some didn’t expect Matthews, 29, to be ready until some time late in November or even into December, but he didn’t miss a single game.
His ’15-’16 season, albeit played under very different circumstances, has been similar to Parsons’, who also rehabbed this summer after undergoing hybrid microfracture surgery last spring. Parsons played under a minutes limit for the first part of the season before finally returning to his full helping of playing time in January.
After battling through inconsistent performances in the first half of the season, Parsons has been one of the better players in the league during the last 15 games, averaging better than 20 points on 50+ percent shooting both from the field and from deep. If there’s anyone who can relate to Matthews’ relative slide, it’s Parsons. In his first 27 games this season, he averaged just 8.9 points per game, scored in double-digits only eight times, and sat out in most crunch-time situations. But over the course of the last month, he’s arguably been the team’s best player.
“We’ve all gone through ups and downs and we’ve all had shooting struggles, but it’s all mental,” Parsons said about his teammate. “(Matthews) puts in the work and he’s proven he can shoot in this league for a long time now. We all believe in him, we’re all confident in him.
“It’s not going to be a lack of work. He works about as hard as anybody, if not harder than anybody, on his game and on his jumper. It’s the law of averages. It’ll all work out in the end.”
It’s unusual to see an athlete express confidence in regression to the mean, but at this point, how else can you view it? At some point, Matthews is going to find his rhythm again, just as Parsons did. And just as it happened to Matthews earlier this season, Parsons’ recent tear arrived quickly and unannounced. One night he scored five points against San Antonio. Three days later he scored 30 points, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Basketball is obviously a very complex sport and there’s a heck of a lot that goes into each game. Last week in Orlando, Carlisle spoke on how difficult it is even to win one game in this league. But, when it comes to shooting struggles, sometimes it’s best not to over-complicate things. Regression to the mean is real, and things have a way of working out for guys who put in the work. “I just play basketball,” Matthews said. No need to make it rocket science.
Fortunately, the rest of the Mavericks are already heating up. After struggling on “wide-open” jumpers for the first part of the season, Dallas has surged in that regard in recent games. The Mavs have now hit at least 10 three-pointers in four consecutive games, just the 10th time in franchise history the team has extended a streak that long. “Had I not been in a funk,” Matthews said, “we probably could’ve had 15.” Earlier this season, Dallas did it in six straight games. Matthews hit five 3s in two of them.
There’s no question Matthews has the work ethic and mentality to fight whatever battle he’s facing, whether it’s related to fatigue, his Achilles, or just plain bad luck. He’ll turn it around sooner than later, and he might have already started that process. He’s the toughest, grittiest player in that locker room, and he’s already overcome far more significant challenges. No need to exaggerate the degree of difficulty here. He’s not building Rome — he’s just shooting baskets.