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Wesley Matthews is playing fantastic defense

In a season gone awry, Matthews’ defense remains a constant.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Wesley Matthews caught a lot of flak early this season as a result of his poor shooting. His shot was falling at career lows, and while he was never worried, many questioned whether he could turn things around. The worst of that seems to be behind him now, but it never should’ve outweighed his overall contribution to the Mavericks. When his shot wasn’t falling, Matthews was stepping up on on the other end of the floor.

“Wes is on a mission to take his game to the next level to help us win,” Mark Cuban said. “He’s been relentless, been focused, he’s been a pro when we’ve struggled. Everything you expect from Wesley Matthews. Everybody, and this is a compliment, everybody loves the dog in Wesley Matthews. There ain’t no junkier dog than Wes, especially on defense.”

Defensively, Matthews is Dallas’ anchor on the perimeter. He’s called upon to guard players from the 1 to the 4, and sometimes he’ll even find himself locked up against a center. It’s this versatility that has made him an invaluable asset to the Mavs.

More often than not, Matthews is matched up against opposing guards and playmakers, leaving him defending a lot of isolation situations. In fact, they make up 19 percent of his defensive possessions as of December 1. He’s been placed on an island 40 times this season, more than any other player in the league.

It’s on this island that he’s holding opponents to .65 points per possession and 29.6 percent shooting and forcing turnovers at a rate of 22.5 percent. No matter who the opponent is, one can imagine that facing Matthews’ defense one-on-one is almost as unnerving as a visit to Ilha da Queimada Grande off the coast of Brazil.

Matthews’ defensive prowess isn’t anything new. Even coming off his Achilles injury two seasons ago, he stepped up to every challenge that presented itself. This season alone he’s guarded the likes of James Harden (twice), Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Carmelo Anthony, Isaiah Thomas, Mike Conley, Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and even Anthony Davis to name a few. It’s been a tough schedule so far.

The box score doesn’t always favor Matthews, especially when he’s matched up against the NBA’s elite players. These players are going to hit their averages for the most part (they’re the marquee talent of the league, after all), but he has the ability to slow them down, force them into tough shots, create loose balls and turnovers, and get them into foul trouble. Yet, despite everything he does, he knows he can get better.

“There’s still things I need to clean up on, still things I need to get better at,” Matthews said. “I don’t think you ever really reach your max. And that’s the beauty of this game. There’s always something to improve on, always something to work on.”

The drive to get better is part of Matthews giving his all each night. And while his defensive effort is there, he’ll be the first to tell you that defense is a team effort. And it’s the team’s effort that’s in question this season.

Defensively, the Mavs have been decent. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that one player can possibly do to improve everyone else. LeBron isn’t walking through that door. Matthews is doing what he can, but he’s not the reason the team is playing as poorly as it is.

“I pride myself on playing both ends of the court and that’s what I’m going to do,” Matthews said. “And I’m going to do it as hard as I can. I’m going to leave everything single thing I have out there every single night and I’m going to continue to make plays on both ends of the court.”

If you’re looking for a bright spot in an otherwise bleak season, look to Matthews’ defense. It’s not sexy, and it won’t show up in a highlight reel. But it’s one of the few things that the Mavericks have going for them right now. Hold it close and don’t let go. Who knows how many more positives there will be to glean from this team?

Just don’t insinuate that Matthews is what ails the Mavs. It does everyone a disservice.