Camby says he’ll be ready to face Spurs

His coach is not so certain of the health of the veteran center

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

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TUALATIN, Ore. — There wasn’t a whole lot of contact in Blazers practice Thursday, so Trail Blazers center Marcus Camby didn’t have much of a chance to experiment with his ankle. No matter, he said.

He doesn’t need to test it out.

The test coming up is all he needs to know.

“I’ll try to play tomorrow,” he said. “It’s San Antonio tomorrow. It’s a big game.”

Then, asked if there were a determining factor regarding his availability, Camby upgraded his status.

“I’ll be out there tomorrow.”

Camby sprained his ankle in the second half of Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, a game Portland controlled up until around his departure.

He sat out Tuesday’s walloping of the Washington Wizards, but as the Blazers’ strength of schedule hits its acme, the big man insists he’ll be on the floor.

Nate McMillan isn’t so sure.

Portland’s coach said Camby will be evaluated before today’s game, and when a television reporter chimed in to report that Camby said he’d be playing, McMillan offered no confirmation.

“Good!” McMillan said of his center’s self-prognosis. “We’ll see.”

But the Blazers might not need the extra size the way they have in games past against the Spurs. San Antonio is without 13-time All Star Tim Duncan, who injured his ankle Monday night against the Warriors.

Not that one game offers much of an indication, but the Spurs (57-14) did fall to the Nuggets by three points Wednesday night on the road.

And this isn’t the first time the Blazers have had the fortune of facing an opponent that’s missing a key ingredient due to a fresh injury or suspension.

In March alone, Portland has faced the Dwight Howard-less Magic, the Al Horford-less Hawks, the Andre Iguadola-less Sixers and the Andrew Bynum-less Lakers.

Don’t get too excited, Blazers fans. Their record is just 2-2 over that stretch.

Plus, as Camby said: “I look at is as we’ve had Greg Oden out and Elliot Williams out, and teams aren’t feeling too sorry for us.”

Besides, Duncan’s minutes have been significantly down from that of previous years, and the Spurs are having one of their best regular seasons ever.

No player for San Antonio averages more than 33 minutes per game, and Manu Ginobili leads the team with an 18-point average. They have one of the league’s more efficient point guards in Tony Parker, the NBA’s best 3-point shooter in Matt Bonner (47.9 percent), and quality role players in Richard Jefferson, George HIll and DeJuan Blair.

McMillan pointed out how without Duncan, the Spurs play a much more uptempo style of basketball. Camby adding that Ginobili and Parker become more aggressive via countless pick and rolls.

But then again, this team was just 50-32 last year with essentially the same core of players.

Why such an elevation?

“They’re healthy,” Nate McMillan said. “They’ve won championships with that group of guys for a number of years, and because of the health of the players, they’ve been able to win a lot more games.”

Added Brandon Roy: “They’ve got a Hall of Fame coach.”

Roy, of course, is referring to four-time NBA champion Gregg Popovich.

And with last year’s record combined with the reduced expectations in San Antonio, Popovich’s name has vaulted into the forefront of Coach of the Year discussions. Joining him are the likes of Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Philadelphia’s Doug Collins, and ... McMillan.

McMillan was asked if he had any Coach of the Year candidates in mind Thursday.

His response? Predictably diplomatic.

“All of them,” he said. “I think all coaches are coach of the year. Everybody’s working. I don’t even know how to pick them, so many guys that do good jobs.”

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or matt.calkins@columbian.com