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News » Matthews to keep spot in starting lineup

Matthews to keep spot in starting lineup

Matthews to keep spot in starting lineup Decent defense plus versatile perimeter play add up to an anticipated third straight start, and maybe many more, for rookie swingman Wesley Matthews. And this time, it's not merely due to necessity. Jazz coach Jerry Sloan suggested Tuesday that ? even with starting point guard Deron Williams planning to return ?

he intends to keep the undrafted Matthews in the opening lineup at shooting guard for tonight's game against Chris Bosh and the Toronto Raptors. "Right now, the way we are, I'll probably, when Deron comes back, play Wesley at the 2," Sloan said prior to practice Tuesday morning. "I think he's played pretty well," Sloan added. "His defensive statistics are the highest on the team, and I think that's a tribute to him." Matthews welcomes the opportunity and does not shy away from the notion of starting in the NBA just a few months after all 30 teams in the league opted against drafting him. "I've been a starter, really, my whole life," said Matthews, who opened 13 of his 23 games as a freshman at Marquette University in Milwaukee and all 104 as a sophomore, junior and senior. "This (doing it in the NBA) is new to me, but, I mean, I'm tight. I'm a Basketball player, and I feel pretty comfortable with these guys that they have confidence in me ? that the coaching staff has expressed confidence in me. "So I'm just gonna go out there," he added, "and keep playing the way I've been playing." Matthews, son of former NBA guard Wes Matthews, scored a season-high 16 points when got his first NBA start in Friday night's win at Philadelphia. Williams missed that game because he was back in Utah tending to an ill daughter, so Sloan opened with rookie first-round draft choice Eric Maynor at point guard, Matthews at shooting guard and usual starting shooting guard Ronnie Brewer at small forward, while bringing usual starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko off the bench. Kirilenko did not open and Matthews did, Sloan said at the time, because he didn't want his three available players who could initiate the offense (Maynor, Brewer and Kirilenko) all on the floor together at the start, and because Kirilenko, a sub last season, was more accustomed to coming off the bench than Brewer. With Williams still absent the next night, the Jazz coach went with the same starting lineup for Saturday's loss at Cleveland. Matthews scored 13 against the Cavaliers and hit a combined 7-for-8 from 3-point range in the two starts. That helped spread the floor for a Jazz club lacking consistent outside shooting, with Kyle Korver recovering from knee surgery and C.J. Miles from thumb surgery. "Teams have to guard him," Sloan said. "When guys make shots out on the perimeter, people have to guard you a little bit more." "Him coming in there and hitting those shots early in that first game (Matthews was 3-for-4 on first-half trey tries against Philadelphia) gave him confidence," Williams added Tuesday, "and it definitely opens up the floor, because you've got to respect him." But there's more to it than being a mere threat from behind the long-distance line. "He (Matthews) has an ability to make shots," Sloan said, "and the other thing is he has an ability to take the ball to the basket ... and not just rely on strictly jump shots. "Any time you can add that sort of thing to your repertoire, I think that certainly helps you, because if they know you're a standing jump shooter and you're not gonna put it on the floor and beat them, they have a better chance trying to cover you. "I think he's shown that he can put the ball on the floor and take a hit and still put the ball in there," the Jazz coach added. "He's not afraid of getting a lick on him, and if somebody gets a lick on him, he's able to deliver the ball in the basket. ... For a young guy (23 as of last month), that says a lot. It means he's got a little bit of toughness about him." Moreover, Sloan suggested Utah's bench becomes a bit stronger with Kirilenko coming off it. "He gives us another guy we can go to," the Jazz coach said, "to play against somebody bigger and longer and see if we can get some help there." Mostly, though, it's Matthews' willingness to defend with gusto that's swayed Sloan's decision. "That's what I try to bring to the table every time," Matthews said, "whether my 3-point shot is going or whether my drive is going in or not. "You know, I'm always going to bring it on the defensive end, I'm always going to work hard, I'm always going to work for my teammates." If he maintains that attitude, there's no telling how long Matthews can keep his newfound starting status. It could be just a game or two. It could be only for a couple weeks, until Miles and Korver return. But it also may well stretch long beyond that, because so far, this rookie has won Sloan's attention. On Tuesday, in fact, the 4-6 Jazz's coach seemed non-committal but open-minded. "We just have to keep exploring what we've got," Sloan said, "and see if we can win a game with it, whoever plays." e-mail:

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Added: November 19, 2009


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