Wesley: We govern ourselves
When the locker room opened for media entrance after the Portland Trail Blazers destroyed the Utah Jazz 130-98 last night at the Moda Center, Damian Lillard was seen giving instructions.
“Next time, just slam it down. Every time,” he said.
He was talking to Meyers Leonard.
With a 38-point lead heading into the final quarter, Leonard and other seldom used reserves received a healthy dose of playing time last night.
On his first scoring opportunity, Leonard beat his man, super-long Rudy Gobert, down the court and it appeared he had an easy dunk when Thomas Robinson finally found him up-court.
Instead of going straight up, Leonard pump-faked, allowing Gobert time to get back. He then proceeded to get a shot off only to see Gobert swat it away. Leonard is too athletic to allow anyone to force him into second-guessing athletic finishes at the rim. He should win most of the battles, and his point guard wanted him to know that.
“I shouldn’t have shot-faked it. I should have went up with it,” Leonard admitted post-game. “Just like Dame said, I got to go up strong with those.”
Leonard clearly looked out of sorts in his stint, which is natural for someone who has only appeared in four games this season and the last contest he participated in was a Nov. 27 match against the Phoenix Suns.
Last night in 12 minutes of action, he was 0-for-three from the field: the Gobert block, an easy put-back layup at point-blank range and a floater in the paint that rolled around the rim before coming off. Leonard is a better player than that.
“It’s just that I press on myself probably a little too much,” Leonard said. “Being nervous about not making mistakes and wanting to prove myself when I have the chances. I just need to kind of relax out there and play my game.”
When you’re out of the rotation for long periods of time, often confidence is the first thing that starts to waver for numerous reasons.
It could be that you start to believe that the coaches have lost faith in you. It could even force you to start losing confidence in yourself. Leonard insists confidence isn’t the issue and just attributes his outing to trying to play impossible, error-free basketball.
“It doesn’t have a lot to do with confidence,” Leonard said emphatically. “It’s just a feel for the game and pressing a little too much on myself to not make mistakes. I had moments where I did pretty well. I had a couple times where I didn’t make the right play. It is what it is. Hopefully I’ll continue to get some chances.”
Leonard, however, did register six rebounds and a block during his stint. He even had a nice bounce pass to Thomas Robinson from the top of the key that led to a foul. The night wasn’t all bad for Leonard, but he and his teammates know that he can do better.
“I just have to continue to prove myself to the coaches, the vets and to the rest of team that I’ll come everyday and work as hard as I can,” he said. “Hopefully when I get in the game, I’ll prove myself.”
-- Wesley Matthews on competing in the NBA Three Point Contest in New Orleans in February:
Matthews is shooting an incredible 51 percent from behind the arc this season, trailing only San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli (56 percent) and Atlanta’s Kyle Korver (52 percent) for tops in the league.
His hot play, among others, is a key reason why this Portland team has shot right out of the gate as the surprise team of the year. If Portland continues this amazing play, they could see two Trail Blazers on the NBA All-Star team. And if Matthews continues his hot shooting, Portland could see three Trail Blazers active during All-Star weekend.
When CSNNW.com asked Matthews about his interest in competing in the three-point shootout, he had this response: “You know, I ain’t never ran from a challenge in my life and I’m not going to start now. If they invite me to the three-point contest, I’ll be there.”
Sounds like he’s game.