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by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews fights through Dwight Howard's screen as he tries to stay with Houston Rockets guard James Harden during Game 3 of their NBA playoff series Friday night at Moda Center.There's been no question about Wesley Matthews' defensive effort and performance in the first three games of the Trail Blazers' first-round playoff series with Houston.

James Harden's numbers are proof.

Some of Harden's missed shots -- there are been an extraordinary 55 of them in three games, including 22 from 3-point range -- are the result of a very good shooter being simply off his mark.

But Matthews' diligence at the defensive end in making Harden's life as miserable as possible has played a role in Harden's dismal shooting percentage (.329 from the field, .267 on 3-pointers).

Matthews has been in Harden's grill as much as possible. Coach Terry Stotts knew he'd get that kind of effort from his starting shooting guard out of Marquette.

"I was built for this," Matthews said after Saturday's practice session.

Now he would like to get his offensive game uncorked as Portland aims for a 3-1 lead in the series by winning Sunday's Game 4, 6:30 p.m., at Moda Center.

Matthews is averaging only 10.7 points on .353 shooting in the series, including 3 for 17 from 3-point range. He has only five rebounds and three assists in the three games.

It's a far cry from his work during the regular season, when he was the Blazers' No. 3 scorer while setting career highs in scoring (16.4 points), rebounds (3.5) and assists (2.4). The 6-5 fifth-year pro shot a solid .441 from the field and an excellent .393 from 3-point range.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Wesley Matthews of Portland drives to the basket during Game 3 Friday night, only to have his shot blocked by Houston Rockets center Omer Asik.It's not been there for him so far in the playoffs. Could it be that he is expending so much energy on defense, it's affecting his offensive performance?

"No," Matthews said. "Just been off. I think I'm rushing a little too much, but I'm not worried about my offense. My offense will come. I'm due. That's how I'm looking at it."

Looks to me as if Matthews has been pressing. Players go through peaks and valleys over a long regular season. Matthews has been consistent with his shot all season, though. His worst three-game stretch was in late February, when he made only 13 of 44 shots, including 5 for 18 on 3-pointers.

Matthews said he took his normal shots during Saturday's practice, which was primarily a maintenance day for Portland's starters and sixth-man Mo Williams.

"Did the same thing I've always been doing," he said. "Once you overreact, you start overthinking, getting in your own head. Unlike over an 82-game season, you don't have the luxury of trying to figure out things in a (playoff) series."

Matthews' teammates appreciate his defensive work and don't believe it's been a detriment to his offensive game.

"He's so good, he can do both," forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. "He's so locked in defensively, he might not be as sharp at times. But, nah, Wes is a big-time player. He can do both. He will. Wes is a warrior. He's very competitive. I see him bouncing back (Sunday) night."

"Wes is tough, man," Damian Lillard said. "He defends like that every night, regardless of who it is. I'm not going to say it takes away from him offensively. Sometimes the ball just doesn't go in. He's done a great job guarding James. He'll be fine."

But Lillard recognizes the commitment to helping contain one of the NBA's premier scorers.

"Going into this series, we talked about there were going to be times when certain guys have to make a sacrifice," he said. "Wes is putting his heart and soul into making things hard for James Harden. It's paid off for our team. The ball just hasn't gone in as often as we're used to. He's locking in on James. I have no doubt he's going to start making shots real soon."

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge helps up guard Wesley Matthews after Matthews was called for a foul in Game 3.Matthews has that mind-set, too. He's not going to be content with being just a stopper.

"I'm a two-way player," he said. "I feel I'm one of the best two-way players in the league. I have to show up at both ends."

The Blazers have ridden the offense of Aldridge and, to a lesser extent, Lillard so far in the series. Nicolas Batum came through with a playoff career-high 26 points in Sunday's 121-116 overtime loss. Williams has had his moments off the bench, and center Robin Lopez -- who has had his hands full defensively, too, with Dwight Howard -- has given occasional help at the offensive end.

That leaves Matthews, who has been a major threat with his shooting and scoring ability all season.

Nobody has a grittier attitude than Matthews, who was asked Saturday about Harden's post-Game 3 declaration that the pressure was now on the Blazers in Game 4.

"We were predicted to lose this series," Matthews said. "There's no pressure on us. Actually, we weren't even supposed to be here.

"We're up 2-1. We still have two games at home. We're not taking that for granted. We didn't take anything for granted all season. We knew (the Rockets) would play with a sense of desperation (in Game 3). They'll do the same (Sunday). Our sense of desperation has to be more than theirs."

If the Blazers win Game 4, they may not have two more home games in the series. They'd have a chance to wrap things up Wednesday night at Houston. Knowing Matthews, he'd take that over regaining his shot any day.

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by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Guard Wesley Matthews shows his emotions about being called for a foul.

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