It was a night for returns in the Rose Garden on Thursday. The main attraction was Trail Blazers journeyman Joel Przybilla who triumphantly returned to Portland after nearly a year away. But while the crowd cheered on the veteran center his teammate Wesley Matthews quietly made a return of his own.
Though a 107-93 loss to the Miami Heat wasn’t the ideal Rip City debut for Przybilla, his performance was a different story completely. The seven-footer, who has had just one practice with the team since signing earlier this week, stepped in ahead of schedule to fill the back-up center role for Kurt Thomas who suffered a mild concussion in Denver the night before.
With basketball conditioning a question, Przybilla silenced all critics powering through 19 minutes, grabbing six boards, an assist and two blocked shots. He delivered on every aspect of what the Trail Blazers expected of him. Honestly, it was like the bruiser never left.
“First half was a little rough, but the second half I got my second wind and started feeling a little better,” Przybilla said. “I didn’t think I’d play much at all honestly. It felt good though. I’ll probably be a little sore and tired tomorrow, but we just gotta get ready for our game on Saturday.”
Head Coach Nate McMillan was pleased with the big man’s performance as well. The power, grit and physical toughness that Przybilla brings in the post have been missing for much of the season thus far and his injection into the rotation tonight invigorated the second unit.
“I thought he did some good things, things that we need at the five position,” McMillan said. “Setting screens, clogging the paint, he rotated over had a couple blocked shots. He forced guys to alter their shots a couple times, so I thought he did a nice job.”
Wesley Matthews was the other big returner tonight. He racked up 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including 2-of-3 from downtown and a perfect 5-of-5 from the charity stripe. Add to that his seven boards, four assists and a steal and you’ve got yourself a solid night from the struggling shooting guard.
During pre-game shoot around Matthews had some extra pep in his step. He sported one of his three goggles tees, teased the media and had a different demeanor than we’ve seen as of late. A change that signaled a turning point of sorts. A rejuvenation he credits to how he used his All-Star break.
Over the hiatus he spent some quality time with his grandmother. Time that allowed him to wrap his head around his new role and really reflect on what’s been causing his on court woes.
“We just hung out, just me and her. Didn’t really talk too much about basketball. Just talked about life and cleared my head. Put me in a different perspective,” Matthews said. “Im in a different role, you guys know that was tough for me and it still is, but it’s not a pity party, I still got a job to do and make the most out of it. That’s what I’ve always been doing, I made a career out of it and that’s why I’m here. I wasn’t drafted, so alright, I’ll make the most out of that. So that’s just what I’m trying to do and whatever I can do to help this team win.”
Although returning from the All-Star break hasn’t gone so well in the win column for the Trail Blazers, a change could be near. Hopefully the dual return of Matthews who found his stroke and ‘The Thrilla’ who is finding his stride can jumpstart a run to push Portland to the post-season.