HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — A number of reasons are emerging to explain the Portland Trail Blazers’ 12-2 start. Camaraderie shown in another comeback win Saturday over Golden State following a second-half dust-up seems just as strong of one as LaMarcus Aldridge‘s monstrous start that included 30 points and 21 rebounds against the Warriors for Portland’s 10th consecutive victory.
Second-year point guard Damian Lillard is scintillating and it sure seems that the new starting center Robin Lopez and a bolstered bench spearheaded by Mo Williams have quickly meshed with the remaining cast, and that all involved are all-in with second-year coach Terry Stotts.
“That inspired us,” said Wesley Matthews, one of three players, along with Williams, ejected after Saturday night’s shoving match. At the time, the Blazers trailed by 10 and then outscored Golden State 42-20 for the 113-101 win. “We got better from it, we got stronger from it. Mo and I were continuing to cheer. They couldn’t hear us, but we were continuing to cheer.”
Need an overlooked reason for Portland’s inspiring start to a hope-filled season? Look at Matthews, the fifth-year shooting guard. If you haven’t noticed, Matthews is shooting the lights out.
Before getting tossed Saturday night, Matthews had dropped five 3-pointers and was 8-for-9 from the floor for 23 points in 26 minutes. It was his sixth 20-point effort in the first 14 games, already one-third of the 18 he had last season in 69 games played.
Not bad for a guy who wasn’t even included on the All-Star ballot. Wesley called the omission “ridiculous,” and he’s certainly making it look that way.
Matthews is making defenses pay for their choices. Left open on the weak side, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard is beating scrambling close-outs and knocking down shot after shot, and at career levels. He’s averaging career highs in scoring average (17.3 ppg), field-goal percentage (56.8) and 3-point percentage (52.5). He’s also averaging a career-best 4.6 rpg, nearly two more a game than last season.
Matthews has helped to super-boost a Blazers offense that is averaging 104.0 ppg, up from 97.5 ppg last season. A year ago they finished 15th in the league in offensive rating (102.9 points scored per 100 possessions). This season they’ve surged to fifth at 107.1. When Matthews is on the floor, Portland’s offensive rating is 108.2.
Interestingly, Matthews’ usage (percentage of a team’s offensive possessions that a player is used) has dipped from last season (19.1 percent to 17.2 percent, ranking 69th among guards) as his shooting percentages have soared.
His effective field-goal percentage (adjusted for made 3-pointers being more valuable than 2-pointers) is an astounding 70.3 percent, second in the league among guards behind New York’s Pablo Prigioni, who plays 18 mpg compared to Matthews’ 34.0 mpg. Last season, Matthews’ eFG% was a mediocre 54.0 percent.
No guard in the league boasts a higher true shooting percentage (adjusted to include the value of 3-pointers and free throws). Matthews is at a whopping 71.4 percent, up from 57.4 percent last season.
The Blazers’ teamwork and tenacity are proving that their win streak is no fluke. Matthews might not be able to keep up his scorching start to such a degree, but if he remains anywhere close, Portland is going to continue to be a team that leaves defenses scrambling for cover and searching for answers.