The shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers struggled, but ultimately came away with a two-point victory over the even more injury-riddled Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.
Kyle Kuzma provided the go-ahead layup with 6.9 seconds remaining, but it was Wesley Matthews who sealed the contest with a steal on Rockets big man Kelly Olynyk.
This was the second consecutive game that Matthews came through with a clutch play in the final seconds of regulation. The previous night it was on offense where he had his moment, tapping in the Kentavious Caldwell-Pope miss to send the game with the New York Knicks to overtime where the Lakers would ultimately come out on top.
But defense is where Matthews has been relentless all season and he spoke about that final play to ice the win over the Rockets.
“That’s one of his big things that he likes to do, fake handoff and keep,” Matthews said about guarding Olynyk on that last possession. “Obviously he’s a tremendous threat […] The further out from the basket the more it favors me being a guard guarding a forward…
“I guard everybody. I’ve been in this league a long time, so you’ve got to be on point with whoever it is you’re guarding. Whoever it is on the court. You got to be able to do. Know what one man is doing, the five man is doing on both teams.”
One of the things that makes Matthews such a great defender is his strength and physicality. Most wings are incapable of moving Matthews off his spot and it allows him to guard bigger players very effectively. This was the case against the much taller Olynyk who had been excellent the entire night but failed in the most important possession as Matthews defended him perfectly.
Of course, the hope against the Rockets would be that the Lakers would defeat them easily as they have the worst record in the NBA, but the veteran wing took a more positive outlook.
Matthews chose to focus on the fact that the Lakers have gotten victories in close games recently, calling those outcomes encouraging. Furthermore, Matthews believes this will be good for the Lakers in their upcoming playoff run as he added that, “we’re battled tested.”
He also added that while the potential of getting back to full strength is exciting, they are taking things day by day right now.
“Obviously, it’s exciting to get everybody back. Get our team back fully healthy and from there we’re going to see where we are. That’s down the road. … Not looking too far ahead. Taking everything day by day. Control what you can, focus on what you can and be ready for this push.”
The Lakers have surely had as difficult a season as was possible and very well could be coming together at the right time in terms of health. Once the team gets their stars back, the team’s role players will have benefitted from these kinds of contests and know what to do when the game is on the line.
Vogel believes Matthews is ’rounding into form’
Frank Vogel has turned to Matthews in the starting lineup in the last couple of games, believing in the veteran’s two-way capabilities in any role. Matthews has struggled for much of this season, especially offensively where he is shooting a career-low from 3-point range. But Vogel believes Matthews is getting it figured out at the right time.
“First of all, we don’t win the last two games without his final big plays,” Vogel said. “The offensive rebound last night and then obviously the steal on Olynyk to save the game tonight. So he’s really rounded into form. He’s had a little bit of an up-and-down season but these last couple weeks he’s really performed at a super high level and gives us confidence that we got a guy out there that we can throw on almost any matchup and really shut their water off. He brought it at multiple positions tonight and was a big part of the win.”
Matthews’ energy and defensive physicality will undoubtedly be a necessity at some point during the playoffs and Vogel sounds as if he will have no hesitations in employing him regardless of opponent.
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