Wesley Matthews will admit his memory isn't as short as it probably should be. Though he displays an uncommon poise and maturity for a sophomore pro, he sometimes has difficulty getting past the misses on offense and the makes on defense.
"It's only my second year," said Matthews, "so I'm still struggling with the getting past the next play type thing, because I want it now."
Wesley's want eluded him Thursday night when he stepped to the free throw line with five seconds to play and the the Trail Blazers down 93-91 to the Bobcats. He wanted to tie the game up at the line, put the pressure on a Charlotte team that had lost their last six games and whose 11-point lead had been whittled down to one to a deuce in a little under six minutes.
But you can't always get what you want. Rather than finding the bottom of the net, Matthews' first attempt made a three-quarter lap around the basket before rimming out, all but dashing Portland's quest for an eighth-straight road win and an opportunity to finish a tough Eastern Conference road swing a perfect 4-0.
Not that this one was on Wesley. In fact, Matthews was arguably Portland's best player on this night, finishing with a team-high 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting while contributing 3 steals and 2 assists. But after that missed free throw, I wondered if Wesley might end up carrying this one with him, to the detriment of both himself and the team.
Though sometimes the persistence of memory can be a good thing in sports, at least if it's applied in the proper context. Beating yourself up over a mistake (though it's questionable to consider a missed free throw a "mistake"; everyone misses eventually) isn't healthy for anyone, especially those whose trade requires unflinching confidence, but history can be a powerful teacher when harnessed correctly. Wesley remembering a missed free throw doesn't fit that bill, but his predilection for recalling the successes opposing players have had against him can be useful.
"I hate being scored on," said Matthews. "It's something I just can't stand. So I remember a lot of buckets."
"I remember what Kevin Martin did (in Portland's 103-100 victory vs. Houston on Jan. 5, 2011). I remember Kobe hit that shot (in Portland's 106-101 overtime loss to L.A. on Feb. 23). I remember that Joe Johnson got hot the night before that (in Portland's 90-83 loss to Atlanta on Feb. 27). Gallinari went for 30 on us (in Portland's 107-106 overtime win vs. Denver on Feb. 25). I remember all that."
Those memories, or at least the memory of Joe Johnson 22-point performance on 9-for-16 shooting in the first meeting between the Trail Blazers and Hawks, will likely be first and foremost in Matthews' mind when the Trail Blazers wrap up their last road trip through the Eastern time zone Saturday night in Atlanta. The Hawks beat the Trail Blazers mainly due to Johnson and Jamal Crawford, also one of Matthews' defensive assignments, combining to score 45 of Atlanta's 90 points in a game that was nowhere near as close as the final score would imply.
Given that, the likelihood of the Trail Blazers finishing out the trip an encouraging 3-1 instead of a discouraging 2-2 could very well come down to Matthews being motivated by what happened the last time against the Hawks on Portland's homecourt.
"I'm a 'why not?' guy," said Matthews. "He shot it; I want him to miss it. It's not like 'Ah, it's good defense, just better offense.' I don't want to hear that. I want him to miss that. That's what my mentality is, and I've got to get better at it."
Even Wesley isn't entirely sure that never being satisfied with being scored on, let alone forgetting it, is the best way to go about a career in the NBA. But while he's still learning how to let go of those things he can't prevent, he might as well use the weight of of those memories to push himself and his team to never accept failure even when it might be unavoidable.
Said Matthews: "There's some games where we're just getting beat and I'll struggle getting past it because it's one out of 82 games. It's not significant, but it is at the same time. But it's still tough for me. It's like, I want to win every game. Someone got to win it, why can't it be us?"