Utah Jazz: Wesley Matthews not playing like the rookie he is

Published: Tuesday, May 4 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

"A couple times (Sunday) in the ballgame, he was the one guy busting his can to get back and try to help stop a basket on the other end of the floor," added Sloan, who compares Matthews' doggedness to that of ex-Utah swingman and two-time Jazz Finals-team member Shandon Anderson. "That's been there all year long."

Over the course of a rookie season in which he started 48 games and did not miss one, Matthews has guarded everyone from journeymen to All-Stars like Carmelo Anthony and NBA MVP LeBron James.

Then there's Bryant, the 12-time All-Star, four-time NBA champ and former MVP and Finals MVP.

Yet none of it — not one situation, one name or face — ever fazed the rookie.

Not in the regular season, not even this postseason.

"I've guarded (Bryant) throughout the year," Matthews said. "I guarded LeBron, guarded Carmelo. You know, I love this challenge. I embrace it, and I'm willing to step up to any challenge."

He is, with no reservations whatsoever.

And he'd have it no other way.

"Because he (Bryant) wants to kill me, you know?" Matthews said.

"We're both basketball players. I mean, his resume speaks for itself. His accolades — I'll be lucky if I can get even half that. But he wants to go at me and he's tougher than anybody else, so I can't have that awe factor," he added. "I can't be, 'Oh, this is Kobe Bryant in the playoffs.' You know, afterward you can tell buddies. But now it's a job, and I want to win too."

The Jazz didn't win Sunday.

L.A. did, by five; Bryant scored 31 and shot 12-for-19 from the field, with six of points coming in the final 80 seconds on a jumper over Matthews, a drive by him and two free throws from a foul on him.

"I thought (Matthews) did a great job on him," Williams said. "Kobe just hit some amazing shots."

Still, Sloan suggested, there's room for improvement.

"I thought we'd do a little better job trying to force him back into help ... instead of him going where he wanted to go," he said. "But we're playing a young guy that's never played Kobe Bryant before (this season).

"He (Matthews) put a tremendous effort in it, to try to guard the guy. He has all the respect in the world for Kobe, I know. And that's how you learn to become a player in this league. And he's done that. He's given us a chance to be able to compete."

Matthews, however, was far from satisfied.

One late play in the particular — the drive — stuck in his craw Monday.

"When he got all the way to the basket for that back-breaking layup — I wish I would have played it a little different," he said. "I wish I wouldn't have crowded him as much. I kind of gave him a straight line, and he took advantage of it. That's what great players do."

And Bryant undeniably is that.

"It's not demoralizing. It hurts when anybody makes a shot. That's what he does. That's why he is who he is," Matthews said. "But, I mean, you've just got to step up to the challenge and make everything difficult for him.

"He's great in the mid-post area. He's very patient. He looks for his cutters, looks for his teammates, tries to get them involved," Matthews added. "But he knows when to attack and when to put the game on his shoulders. I've got to match his intensity and his spark."

If anybody can as a rookie, Jazz teammates have no doubt Matthews would be their pick.

"I don't think he's really played like a rookie all year," Williams said.

Perhaps that's partly because of genes from his father, Wes Matthews, who played for six NBA teams over nine seasons and in Italy, too.

He won two NBA title rings with the Lakers in 1987 and 1988, one of which was given to son Wesley, who was born shortly before that first championship season.

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