Hunched down in his locker room chair and draped in towels, Wesley Matthews didn't bother dressing before acknowledging the cold reality.
"I suck right now," he quietly told reporters. "Point blank."
Matthews' harsh assessment comes on the wake of another disappointing outing, where one more made shot might have flipped the outcome of the Rockets' 100-96 victory over Dallas. In 34 minutes on Friday, Matthews shot only 1-of-9 from the field, including 1-of-8 from behind the 3-point line. The game dropped his field goal percentage to 34 percent on the season, while Matthews is making only 31 percent on his shots from distance. When you consider his scoring has dropped nearly five points, too, it's evident how little has gone right offensively for Matthews this year.
It's still a marvel that he's playing at all. When he ruptured his Achilles tendon last March, everyone knew how difficult his road back would be. The Mavericks understood the challenges when they signed him to a four-year, $70-million max contract this summer. No one expected he'd suit up like he did on Oct. 28, making his season debut in Dallas' first game. But the road back stretches longer still, as Matthews clearly hasn't regained his former self yet.
"I'm tired of hurting the team," Matthews said after the loss. "I'm tired of missing shots. I put everything I have into this game -- I have since I started playing. I put everything I had to into getting back and being ready. I'm just trying to keep the doubt out."
Nobody thinks that Matthews can't conquer these shooting woes. That's what recovery is, after all, and the Achilles is one of the most difficult rehabilitations in sports. Rick Carlisle, for one, is still highly optimistic about the guard he's only heaped praise on since joining Dallas.
"The shots are on line and are hitting the back rim, predominantly," Carlisle said. "That just means he's just got to stay with it."
And despite a single made shot, Matthews still found ways to make himself felt on Friday. His defense on James Harden in the waning seconds was nearly flawless, forcing a stepback jumper with extreme degrees of difficulty. It still went in, bouncing around every part of the rim before dropping through, but Carlisle was right to call the jumper "spectacular" and a "little lucky."
But none of this will appease Matthews. Though he entered the league for his defense, Matthews has carved out a career as one of the NBA's premiere two-way players. That's why Dallas dropped such an enormous contract on him. That's why his frustration couldn't quite be contained as he spoke to the media.
"(The shots) all feel good stepping into them," Matthews said. "A couple of them were at the end of the shot clock, a little under duress. Last year, I loved those. I gotta be better and attack this the only way I know how, which is putting everything I have into it."
There's no doubt his lack of shotmaking is hurting Dallas. On Friday, eight of Matthews' nine attempts were considered "uncontested", a term defined and measured by the NBA's SportsVU data as not having a defender within 3.5 feet. The Mavericks are the worst team in the NBA at making "wide open" shots this season and Matthews is a major culprit.
But until those shots start falling through the nylon, what can Dallas do but trust it'll work itself out?
"We all go through it, and he's coming off just a major, major injury," Dirk Nowitzki said. "He's just got to keep working. I like him stepping into those shots all day. Some of them look good. Some of them are in and out. You've got to take them with confidence."
Chandler Parsons echoed Dirk's sentiments: "He's not letting us down. He's giving us everything he has every single night. He guards the best player every single night. It's a long season. Everybody goes through slumps. You're going to miss shots, but he can control the game and dominate the game in so many other different areas. He can't get down off his jumper. He helps us in so many different areas, especially his defense. We all believe in him. We'll all stay confident in him."
Matthews' harshest critic is still himself -- but that's exactly why the Mavericks are so sure he'll break out of this quagmire. Sooner is better, of course, but they signed Matthews for the long haul. Maybe with another player, you'd begin to worry whether these effects were permanent, but not him. This is just another hurdle.