Blazers on TNT's national stage Thursday

Portland playing host to San Antonio

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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The Portland Trail Blazers (9-12) host the San Antonio Spurs (18-4) at 7:30 p.m. today for a nationally-televised game on "NBA on TNT."

The last time the Blazers appeared in this glamour slot, they provided highlight filler for the impressive Lob City crew.

Interestingly enough, after that 103-90 loss to the Clippers, the Blazers turned around and hosted the Spurs on Nov. 10 in a competitive game.

Nicolas Batum tied a career-high in points (33) but missed a late-game 3-pointer that would have given the Blazers the lead, and Portland lost 112-109.

Still question marks

Though Wesley Matthews (hip) has participated in various shooting drills over the past two days, and Nicolas Batum (back) practiced on Wednesday, the official word remained unchanged: They are both gametime decisions.

So, now the waiting game.

Unflinching in his desire to hold strategies close to the vest, coach Terry Stotts will not reveal if he will have two of his leading scorers back in the lineup until he absolutely must.

On Monday night before the Blazers faced the Toronto Raptors, Batum was already inactive and the team listed Luke Babbitt as the probable starter in his place. Judging by the grease board inside the visitors' locker room, the Raptors believed it. However, Stotts dropped a surprise by starting the little-used rookie Victor Claver.

Stotts can see the benefit in a pump fake such as this -- something he picked up from Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle while he worked in Dallas as an assistant during the previous four seasons.

"Even if (Carlisle) wasn't going to change his starting lineups, (he would) wait until the last minute to give his starting lineup," Stotts said. "In a situation like (Monday), I don't think a lot of people saw Victor as a starter. So they have their team meeting and they have their preparation. They prepare for Luke and game plan for Luke, and Luke doesn't start. So, yeah, I don't know how much impact but I think it effects it when a team spends a lot of time preparing for one thing."

Stopping the Spurs

The Spurs excel in two distinct areas: shooting the three and scoring inside. The two may seem a bit contrary but show the range of their offensive skill set, and the complexity of the challenge ahead for the Blazers.

San Antonio ranks seventh in the league in 3-point field goal percentage (37.6) as just about every rotational player has the green light to shoot from deep. Even power forward Tim Duncan continues to be a threat from just a step inside the arc, as he has made 45.8 percent of his attempts from 16-24 feet.

So, how exactly can the Spurs burn the Blazers inside without a constant back-to-the basket presence? Easy. Having Tony Parker helps.

Parker, an All-Star point guard, takes 55 percent of his shot attempts from nine feet or closer. Parker did not play during the Nov. 10 match up, and the Spurs barely got the upper hand in the points-in-the-paint category (36 to 34). With Parker in the lineup, the Spurs average 41.5 points in the paint and rank fourth in the league in the category.

More in the reserve

The complaints about the Blazers' bench had never been louder than they were on Nov. 10 when the role players scored just four points against the Spurs.

In that game, San Antonio dominated with 63 bench points while Portland only produced two field goals from Meyers Leonard and Sasha Pavlovic.

The 59-point disparity in bench production was eye-popping, but the numbers back up the Spurs' superiority. With the second-highest scoring bench in the league, the Spurs average 42.2 points a game.

Since that four-point outing, the state of the Blazer bench has improved ... slightly.

For a stretch, the Blazers ranked last in the league in bench scoring with 12.2 points a game. Now, the reserves produce 15.3 points -- better, but still the worst in the league.