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Lakers vs. Spurs Preview: Wesley Matthews has broken out of his shooting slump

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Wesley Matthews got going, but that isn’t the only major storyline to follow for the Lakers.

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Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

The Lakers are taking on the San Antonio Spurs again tomorrow, and since these two teams literally just played each other yesterday, you know what to expect from this opponent, even if both teams will probably make an adjustment or two as this playoff-esque “series” continues with three games in the span of a week. Because of that — and, in the interest of full disclosure, because we’ve been taking things a little slower on the site for the holidays — this preview is going to look a little different than usual, and take a look at a few notable things for the Lakers over the past few days.

But before we get started, if you want more on the Spurs specifically, here is our recap of Wednesday’s game, and our preview of that matchup.

Now, on to the news.

Wesley Matthews has arrived

The biggest basketball storyline to come out of Wednesday’s win over the Spurs — other than the Lakers continuing their goal of not losing multiple games in a row or some historical trivia from LeBron James — was the resuscitation of Matthews, who was in an absolutely brutal shooting slump to start the season, going 0-8 from 3-point range over his first four games.

Against the Spurs, he went 6-6 from behind the arc, finishing with 18 points as the Lakers coasted to an easy win.

But throw out the numbers of how cold Matthews was, and how hot he got in San Antonio. Even if one didn’t know the exact stats, the question Matthews got after the game — and his semi-stunned reaction to it — was an interesting microcosm of both how brutal his shooting was to start the season, and how high his own expectations for himself are.

Reporter: You made six shots today, all from 3-point range, how unusual is that, and how did you feel about yourself after a game like that?

Matthews: “How unusual was it? Uh, I don’t know. I feel like I can get hot. I feel like I should make every shot that I shoot, so I won’t say it was unusual. I’m definitely grateful to my teammates. Credit to my teammates, coaching staff, for being consistently supportive and consistently optimistic. Obviously I didn’t start the season out shooting the way that I would like to from behind the arc, so to have a game like this, it feels great, but it feels even better to win. So ‘unusual?’ I don’t know. But I’m grateful for the night and the moment.”

But as much as Matthews won’t call his net-singeing shotmaking unusual, shooting that hot was unexpected after how rough his start to the year was. It’s not that Matthews isn’t a better shooter than he showed so far, and that some regression wasn’t expected, but look at the names he put himself alongside in Lakers history and tell me you could have predicted what he did in San Antonio on Wednesday:

But while Matthews may not be surprised, he was candid after the game while talking about his struggles, and how he was able to break out of them. Coming to a new team full of new players requires an adjustment, and it’s not always easy — even for a veteran shooter like Matthews — to hit the ground running in a new role.

“It’s just a different type of rhythm. This is my 12th season, and since halfway through my rookie year I’ve been a starter in this league, and it’s a different kind of way you mentally get yourself engaged,” Matthews said. “And obviously this is a new group, a new style of play, and it’s an odd season, an odd offseason, so nothing really was able to be any kind of semblance of normal. So I’ve just been leaning on my teammates, trusting my work, trusting my faith and continuing to play.

“Keef (Markieff Morris) is one of the guys that’s really been instrumental in my comfort. I watch a guy like that who has been a starter in this league, and how he goes about coming off the bench and how he prepares,” Matthews continued. “I started to take a little bit of what he does to get ready for when my number is called to check into the game, which is something that’s different for me, but like I said, you’ve got to be able to adapt.”

The Lakers don’t need 18 points from Matthews every game. But if he can play the style of offensive basketball he did on Wednesday and continue to get extra hot every so often, the Lakers will be in a good spot heading into the New Year. Not a bad way for the champs to close out 2020.

Alex Caruso likely did not test positive for COVID-19

Alex Caruso didn’t travel with the Lakers to San Antonio for their back-to-back against the Spurs, and is being held out under the league’s health and safety protocols, an intentionally vague designation the league agreed upon with the players union for anyone out for any reason even tangentially related to the NBA’s coronavirus precautions, whether they tested positive or not.

There was some worry about a positive test being what held Caruso out, and while that’s still theoretically possible, given that no other Lakers players or staffers were required to join him in quarantine due to contact tracing when Caruso played in a game the night before he was first held out, it always seemed unlikely that a positive test was keeping him out. That seems even more improbable in the wake of the league’s announcement on Wednesday:

That is obviously good news for Caruso, and hopefully wherever he is and no matter why he’s actually out, he is doing all right, and he and everyone around him are healthy.

Injury report

LeBron James will be listed as questionable with an ankle injury for the third game in a row:

The Lakers and Spurs will tip off on the first day of 2021 at 5:00 p.m. PT, and the game will be televised nationally on NBA TV, and locally on Spectrum SportsNet. And no matter where you are, or how you’re watching, I just want to thank everyone who reads this and anything else this site produces for helping make this community so special. 2020 has been an awful year for all of us in so many ways, even if it’s also had its positives, but this site and the people here are one of the few bright spots for me through all of it. Thank you for helping me survive this year, and here’s to a better 2021 for all of us.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.