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Ball Don't Lie

Wesley Matthews’ right foot was ‘completely numb’ for months

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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There are arguments to be made about how useful I am in various contexts — as a writer, as a pal, as a confidant, as someone who remembers the theme to "The Golden Girls" — but I'll concede that when my foot falls asleep, I am basically useless.

Moving past the fear of the pins-and-needles feeling that accompanies movement is hard enough; once I'm mobile, I'm only barely so, dragging that dead lump of flesh and bone around from room to room like Igor trailing Dr. Frankenstein. "Never again," I promise myself once the feeling returns, before putting my feet back up on my coffee table, grabbing the laptop and instantly making a liar of myself.

For this reason, among many others, I would not make a good professional basketball player. Because apparently, in the world of the NBA, when you can't feel your foot for two months in the middle of a season, you're just supposed to pretend like you can totally feel your foot.

That's what Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews did, anyway. From Joe Freeman at the Oregonian:

When Wesley Matthews collapsed to the floor during a fluke post-practice accident in January, he hobbled into the trainer's room in noticeable pain but was seemingly fine. He started at shooting guard the next night, scoring 26 points in a victory over the Phoenix Suns, and went on to play all 82 regular season games.

Turns out, however, that Matthews had suffered a torn tendon in his right ankle during that freak post-practice tumble. He played 48 games, including the playoffs, with the ailment but labored behind the scenes.

"People don't really know this, but over the last two months of the season I couldn't feel my right foot," Matthews said Monday. "It was completely numb."

It's also worth remembering that Portland made the postseason this year and didn't exit until April 28, 2011. That means Matthews actually played for more than three months on a wheel he couldn't feel.

Here is what is not amazing about this story: A member of the Portland Trail Blazers suffered an injury to his legs. Here is what is kind of amazing about this story: Not having any feeling in his right foot didn't seem to have a major effect on Matthews' production at all.

Hit the jump for video of Matthews discussing his injury with Blazers TV's Casey Holdahl.

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According to Freeman, the ankle injury occurred the day before the Blazers' Jan. 14, 2011, game against the Suns, in which Matthews scored 26 points. From that game through the end of the regular season, the Marquette product averaged 16.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting (including 44.6 percent from 3-point range) and 83.7 percent from the foul line to go with 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game — all numbers that are either right in line with or even a tick above his averages from the first half of the year. Y'know, when he had sensation in both of his dogs.

Yes, Matthews' numbers did dip somewhat in Portland's first-round playoff loss to the Dallas Mavericks. During the six-game defeat, he averaged 13 points on 47.4/38.1/84.2 shooting percentages, 1.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 0.67 steals per game. But those declines come with some caveats.

For starters, a six-game series offers a far smaller sample size than the 42 regular-season contests he'd played since sustaining the injury. Beyond that, he was playing against the eventual NBA champs every other night without catching the occasional breather against the likes of the Minnesota Timberwolves' or Sacramento Kings' defenses. Plus, as my man Dwyer noted when writing about Amar'e Stoudemire way back when, given the slower pace of the game, the quality of the competition, the intensity of the affair and everything else, "merely approximating your regular-season numbers in the playoffs is a sterling accomplishment." Those are far more likely explanations for Matthews' slight drop-off; it's not like the injury all of a sudden reared its ugly head in the final six games of what we should now be calling the Wesley Matthews Deadfoot Era.

Matthews' performance level aside, Blazers fans might be scratching their heads and wondering why a 24-year-old in the first year of a five-year, $34 million contract was sent onto the court night in and night out without any feeling in his right foot.

To be fair, it's entirely possible that Portland's medical team was right to decide that once the tendon was torn, continuing to play on it didn't pose any risk of further damage, and for Matthews, being a gamer, to decide to just tough it out. But given the laundry list of injury concerns that have plagued Blazers from Sam Bowie to Zach Randolph to Greg Oden over the years and raised concerns in some quarters about the team's medical decision-making, fans would be forgiven for feeling a bit ill-at-ease about the situation.

After Portland's season ended, two doctors recommended either a cortisone shot or surgery to treat Matthews' longstanding injury. More from Freeman:

So Matthews sought a third opinion. That doctor suggested he try a Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injection, the same procedure that Brandon Roy underwent on his hamstring in January 2010 and later on his knees. The procedure involves extracting a patient's blood, running it through a centrifuge — which separates red blood cells from platelets — and re-injecting the resulting fluid into the injured area.

"I wanted to do everything I could to avoid surgery," Matthews said. [...]

After undergoing the procedure in May and wearing a protective boot for six weeks, Matthews had his boot removed [last] Wednesday. The procedure is not foolproof — in some cases, surgery is the only solution for Matthews' injury — but Matthews says early indications are positive.

I can understand Matthews' reticence to go under the knife if it's not absolutely necessary, although interim Blazers General Manager Chad Buchanan told Freeman that the ankle procedure his starting shooting guard would have faced is "not a very major surgery if he had to go that route." (And while the circumstances, injuries and players are different, Blazers fans would also be forgiven for not being too thrilled to hear that another one of their players opted for a treatment that couldn't save Brandon Roy's doomed legs.)

Matthews told Freeman the ankle is "not 100 percent yet," but that the feeling is coming back and he can bend the toes on his right foot. That's good news for a Blazers team that just shipped out Rudy Fernandez, can't bank on Roy and may have to rely on young, unproven commodities like Elliot Williams, Nolan Smith and Jon Diebler for more-than-expected minutes at the two if Matthews comes up lame.

Another factor in Portland's favor here is the almost-certain-to-come lockout, which threatens to give teams and players an extended break from on-court action and could lop at least some time off the coming season. While that sucks for pretty much everyone, it does mean that Matthews will have plenty of time to rehab the ankle before re-entering live games. Chalk one up for the Plus Side of the Lockout Ledger! That cuts the Minus Side's lead to 11,000,000,000,000 to 1.

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