DALLAS – For the first time in three games, Wesley Matthews will be back in the starting lineup for the Dallas Mavericks.
Matthews missed the past two games because of a hip injury he incurred during last Monday’s 96-89 win over the red-hot Miami Heat. The eight-year veteran missed Wednesday’s 100-95 loss at Atlanta and Friday’s 104-100 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies.
However, he’ll be back on the court when the Mavs (25-36) host the Oklahoma City Thunder (35-27) tonight at 7:30 at American Airlines Center.
Matthews, who doesn’t like to miss games, acknowledged how difficult it was to sit and watch his teammates play without him.
"It was tough, but I think the toughest part of it was knowing that I had to (sit out the two games),’’ Matthews said following this morning’s shootaround. "It was a little different than the rest.
"I knew that I had to, and that was the most frustrating part.’’
For the Mavs, it also was frustrating to see Matthews go down and have to be sidelined for two games.
"He’s one of our best players and he’s had an opportunity here for six days to get some rest, to get some work done,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "He’s feeling much better and it’s time to get him out there.’’
With the return of Matthews, that means either point guard Yogi Ferrell or shooting guard Seth Curry will be relegated to the bench. And most likely it’ll be Ferrell, meaning Curry will slide over from shooting guard to start at point guard.
The other starters more than likely will be Dirk Nowitzki at power forward, Harrison Barnes at small forward and Nerlens Noel at center.
But there’s also a scenario where the Mavs could start Nowitzki at center, Barnes at power forward, Matthews at small forward, Curry at shooting guard and Ferrell at point guard while bringing Noel off the bench.
However, in his first start for the Mavs last Friday, Noel produced 15 points, a career-high tying 17 rebounds and two blocked shots in the triumph over the Grizzlies. His activities enable the Mavs to win the rebounding battle against the aggressive Grizzlies, 45-39.
Matthews, meanwhile, is second on the Mavs in scoring at 15 points per game and has the ability to stretch the defense with his 3-point shooting.
"If you’re away from the game for awhile, you miss it even more,’’ Matthews said. "It’s grateful to be back and I’m excited.
"The injury itself is a little bit complex. I know really know how to tell you guys, but I’m good to go know.’’
Matthews returns at a time when the Mavs will be playing against Thunder point guard Russell Matthews, who has turned the NBA upside down with his amazing chase to finish this season averaging a triple-double. Westbrook has 30 triple-doubles and is averaging 31.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.1 assists per game.
The only person to ever averaging a triple-double for an entire season is Oscar Robertson, who averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists during the 1961-’62 season while playing for the Cincinnati Royals.
"It’s remarkable is what it is, it’s remarkable,’’ Matthews said, referring to Westbrook. "For him to bring to bring it every single night at the level that he does it’s something to really respect and hopefully future generations respect it, and what he’s doing right now is pretty crazy."
In Westbrook’s last four games he scored 41 points against New Orleans, 43 against Utah, 45 against Portland and 48 against Phoenix while attempting 123 shots. So, there are some innate difficulties trying to defend a player who has the ultra-green light to shoot the ball.
"You just hope that he’s missing more than he makes,’’ Matthews said. "He’s averaging a triple-double, he’s had four straight 40-point games, and every single game he scored more points than the last one.
"I guess you just try to make sure that he’s taking tough shots and everybody else isn’t getting as involved."
Carlisle plans to have Matthews, Devin Harris, Dorian Finney-Smith and Ferrell take turns trying to slow down Westbrook.
"There’s going to be a whole posse, and it’s still going to be extremely difficult," Carlisle said. "As I said, these guys have a lot of good players, but right now Westbrook is on another stratosphere with how he’s playing.
"So it’s important to have a lot of good defenders to throw at him, and we’re going to have multiple guys running at him all night long."
Westbrook obviously is a top candidate to win this year’s Most Valuable Player award. But Houston’s James Harden, Cleveland’s LeBron James and the Golden State duo of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are also worthy contenders for the league’s most coveted individual regular season trophy.
"This is the craziest MVP race," Matthews said. "You could give it to four or five different people and you could make cases for all of them.
"But (Westbrook’s) got to be up there. Averaging a triple-double for a season -- it’s only been done by one other person."
Westbrook’s high energy and activity likely gives coaches headaches trying to conjure up a strategy to contain his every move.
"He’s so good that you just go to try to make it difficult,’’ Carlisle said. "What he’s doing with averaging a triple-double is ridiculous.
"It’s so difficult to do in this league over this period of time -- it’s just an amazing accomplishment. And to this point it looks like he’s going to pull it off for the season, too."