Blazers likely to look to Afflalo in Matthews’ absence

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Wesley Matthews is confident the Trail Blazers will be fine without him.

Matthews ruptured his left Achilles tendon early in the third quarter of Portland’s 94-75 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night, the team’s fifth consecutive win.

“We’ve got guys who can fill in. We’ve played injured, we’ve played down, we’ve played bruised and beat up,” Matthews said. “I have nothing but confidence that this team’s going to respond and we’re going to continue to be that same team that we’ve been these last five games.”

The Blazers will look to Steve Blake, CJ McCollum and newly acquired guard Arron Afflalo to stand in during Matthews’ absence. The injury comes as the Blazers (41-19) jostle for playoff position in the Western Conference with 21 games to go in the regular season.

Afflalo and forward Alonzo Gee were acquired in a trade with the Denver Nuggets at the deadline. While he was playing off the bench for Portland, it is likely he’ll shift back into a starting role down the final stretch of the season.

“You can’t make up for Wes Matthews, but you can have multiple guys come in and do things to still help the team play at a high level,” guard Damian Lillard said. “Now the trade that we made becomes a better trade because Arron has been a starting two guard in this league.”

But it will be hard to replace the intangibles that Matthews brought to the team. Known to fans as “Iron Man,” Matthews had missed just 13 games in his career. Players called him the heart and soul of the Blazers.

“It’s so much bigger than what he does on the floor,” Lillard said. “The energy he brings every day, coming to the practice facility, with a smile, cracking a joke.”

All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge said: “He’s an overall great player offensively and defensively. He sets the tone for us in every way. He does everything for this team.”

Matthews fell to the court when his Achilles gave out and was helped off the floor. An MRI confirmed the injury, the team said.

“I make that same cut hundreds of thousands of times in my life,” Matthews said. “I felt the initial pop. And you guys could probably tell on the replay. I looked back — it feels like someone’s kicked you. I was praying. I was praying someone was back there.”

Matthews was third on the team with an average of 15.9 points per game, along with 3.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists this season. He started all 60 games.

An undrafted free agent out of Marquette when he was signed by the Utah Jazz in 2009, Matthews came to Portland in his second season. With seven 3-pointers against Memphis in January, Matthews passed Terry Porter for the most in team history.

Matthews was fourth in the NBA with 173 3-pointers this season. He had 11 games with five or more 3s.

He said he’ll likely have surgery, but it had not been scheduled.

“I’m frustrated, man. I’m frustrated,” Matthews said. “They say everything happens for a reason, and I was thinking it, too. But what was the reason? I can’t find it right now.”

This article was written by Anne M. Peterson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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