Blazers' Babbitt plays with hot hand

Forward is learning what it takes to play off bench in NBA

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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TUALATIN, Ore. -- There's a secret behind Luke Babbitt's recent shooting splash, and it's found pressed between his paws.

While the Trail Blazers' starting five are reading and reacting through offensive sets, even as substitutes around Babbitt peel away from the bench and enter the game before he does, Babbitt is warming up.

He sits and watches the action while caressing a heated pack that fits inside the palms of his hands.

So, you can say that Babbitt was already hot when called upon late in the Blazers' Dec. 3 game against the Charlotte Bobcats.

Babbitt knocked down the game-tying 3-pointer, which completed an 18-point fourth-quarter comeback and resulted in an overtime victory that highlighted the Blazers' seven-game road trip.

It also revealed that though his third year as a professional has been a practice in patience, Babbitt can still heat up behind his shooting touch.

"It's definitely an underrated part of the game," Babbitt said. "It's an adjustment for me coming into the NBA. As a college player used to getting 20-25 shots in the game, used to starting, you're used to always (being) able to get into a rhythm throughout the game. As a bench player, you have to be in a rhythm from the second you step onto the court, even if you haven't been on the court in three games. You got to be in a rhythm."

When the Blazers returned to the practice facility on Friday morning -- a 2-5 road trip behind them -- Babbitt had become the team's hottest shooter.

Yes, that Babbitt who accomplished a basketball oddity by banking in a corner three in a game against the Los Angeles Clippers. The same Luke Babbitt who had collected five DNPs and hadn't played more than nine minutes in a game before the long road trip, and walked into Charlotte's arena with a paltry 28.6 percentage from the arc.

But to be fair, it's the same Babbitt who remained steadfast with his pregame routine of shooting his jumpers as the last Blazer on the court.

Babbitt does not know when, or if, he'll get into the game but never wants to lose the feeling in his hands, and so he warms up until a coach has to come get him to join the team meeting. With this mentality to always stay prepared, Babbitt turned his season around in just two consecutive games.

Against the Bobcats when Babbitt played the stretch-four position to spread the floor, then switched to the small forward role -- or "three" position -- on Wednesday versus the Indiana Pacers, he made five of six attempted triples.

"He obviously excelled in the Charlotte game at four," coach Terry Stotts said, "and at three, in Indiana he held his own."

Babbitt averages just 7.4 minutes and 2.8 points per game but now leads the team in 3-point field-goal percentage at 42 percent.

"That's what happens when you don't take many (shots). You go like this," Babbitt said, his hand sailing up and down through the air like a roller coaster. "My 3-point percentage wasn't very good but that was after just one game in Cleveland (0 for 4) and then the next game it went back up."

"When you don't have many attempts early in the season, that's what it does. It goes like this."

That's taken some getting used to -- especially after coming into the NBA from the University of Nevada where he played 37 minutes a night and averaged 21 points. So while Babbitt has sat through most of his pro career, he's also studied.

Last season, he watched former teammate Jamal Crawford and noticed the little pack he kept between his hands. The pocket-sized heat pack worked for Crawford, so Babbitt adopted the practice this year.

"It keeps your hands warm while you're sitting on the bench," Babbitt explained. "It keeps the sweat on your hands so when you come into the game, your hands are warm and it feels like you've kind of been doing something as opposed to the first time you touch the ball (and) your hands are cold."

Eschewing the cold touch, Babbitt stays ready to fire.

Barton, Claver sent to D-League

By the time the Blazers began practice Friday morning, rookies Will Barton and Victor Claver were in Boise getting ready for their debut with the Idaho Stampede.

The team assigned Barton and Claver to the NBA Development League for two games on Friday and today against the Austin Toros. The players will return to Portland on Sunday.

Barton had appeared in the previous 10 games and even found minutes in the early rotation during the recent seven-game road trip. On Nov. 26 in Detroit, Barton registered career highs in minutes (21) and points (12) but Stotts said a brief stint in Boise would help in his progress as a player.

"I think the opportunity for him to get 70-75 minutes rather than 15 is important," Stotts said. "He gets a good run and when he comes back, he'll be back in the rotation. But I think the opportunity to play in two full games is important."

Claver, the quin tessential 15th man on the roster, has only appeared in four games this season. He last played on Nov. 21 in Phoenix and has recently been listed on the team's injury report with a right elbow contusion.