Sometimes, players can get used to losing. You end up on a team that always seems to be rebuilding, always looking to next season, and after a while, maybe the sting you felt after a tough beat is eventually replaced by subtle indifference. There are plenty of players in the NBA who, despite starting their careers as fiercely competitive, are slowly worn down by losing to the point where they don't much care if their team ends the night on the wrong side of the final score.
Wesley Matthews is not one of those players.
"I'm mad right now," said Matthews after he and his fellow sophomores lost 148-140 to the rookies Friday night in the first main event of the 2011 All-Star weekend. "I wanted to win that."
That much was obvious for anyone who knows him. You could tell from the change in his demeanor from the post-practice media availability to the post-game availability that, while he probably wouldn't be losing much sleep over ending up second to the first-year players, he was less than enthused with losing a game that, in the grand scheme, was meaningless.
The game played out as many events at All-Star weekend often do, with the first three-quarters of the game passing without much effort exerted (at least on the defensive end) before everyone gets serious for the deciding minutes leading up to the final buzzer.
"Basketball is always fun, but it's a different kind of competitiveness." said Matthews of the urgency, or lack thereof, that typified the majority of Friday night's game. "The last eight minutes it turned up a little bit as far as trying to get stops and make plays. It really came down to winning at the end."
Matthews did his part with a 15-point, six-assist, four-rebound performance that featured numerous appearance from the Three Goggles (both from Matthews and a few of his teammates), but a record-setting 22 assists from John Wall and a 33-point, 15-rebound double-double from DeMarcus Cousins lead the rookies past the sophomores from the second-straight season.
"(The rookies) were making plays, they were making shots," said Matthews. "It seemed like every time we'd get a good possession in they would hit one tough bucket."
Despite the loss, Matthews said he enjoyed the opportunity to mingle with the glitterati of the NBA and catch up with good friends Stephen Curry and Jerel McNeal all while representing the Portland Trail Blazers in the home of their most hated rival.
"It was cool," said Matthews, "other than losing."