Starting lineup changes for Blazers? No!

Blazers coach Nate McMillan gets defensive when discussing playing time

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

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TUALATIN, Ore. — Nate McMillan started out as a player, then became a coach, and on Monday, showed interest in a new profession: Journalist.

Well, maybe that's a stretch — but he certainly seemed to enjoy the interviewing part.

With the Trail Blazers having lost three of their past four while holding an underachieving record of 15-13, questions regarding how McMillan distributes his minutes have become more and more frequent. Most of them have centered around Raymond Felton, who remains in the starting lineup despite being ranked as the 45th most efficient point guard in the league.

But when the subject of Nicolas Batum possibly getting more playing time arose, that's when McMillan morphed into a reporter.

"There we go," said McMillan, whose team will host the Wizards on Tuesday."You guys want to change the point guard, and now you want to get Nic minutes."

Or use him in a different way? the reporter said.

"What other way can we use him?" responded McMillan.

Give him more minutes? answered the reporter.

"He was on the floor at the end of the game. He's there. OK, so answer that for me. Respond to that."

Play him more at the 2, chimed in another journalist.

"He was at the 2," McMillan said. "You're at the 2 — make plays. You're in there at the most crucial part of the game — make plays! More minutes doesn't equal winning."

Well, that's up for debate. The Blazers are 1-9 this year in games decided by five points or less. That can partly be attributed to Portland's inability to finish, but one could argue that if certain players were on the court more often than others, some of these games wouldn't be so close in the first place.

Batum is averaging nearly seven fewer minutes than Wesley Matthews, but is shooting 3 percent better from the field and 6.5 percent better from 3-point distance while averaging 12.2 points to Matthews' 12.5.

Meanwhile, Jamal Crawford is averaging 6.5 fewer minutes per game than Felton, but is shooting 1.5 percent better from the field and 12.3 percent better from deep while averaging 14.8 points to Felton's 10.5. Felton, however, is averaging 2.7 more assists per game than Crawford, and when McMillan was asked point blank why Felton still has the starting spot, McMillan answered "I think he's the best player at that position."

Felton declined to speak with the media after Monday's practice.

Crawford, on the other hand, did speak with reporters...but not until about an hour after practice. The reason was because he was in McMillan's office watching film from Saturday's double-overtime loss to the Mavericks.

And within one minute of his emergence, Crawford was asked if he thought he'd be seeing more playing time at point guard.

"That's a tough question," said Crawford after a long pause.

But Crawford did admit that he feels he has been given a bit more responsibility, and later talked about how going from the 2 to the 1 requires a shift in mindset.

"They're almost as opposite as you can be," said Crawford, admitting he's more of a natural scorer. "They call it the shooting guard for a reason. You're attacking. But when you're the point, you're thinking about everyone else and trying to get them easier shots."

After struggling in the early part of the season, Crawford said he changed his mentality after hearing coaches telling not to think, but rather "just play." So switching positions may force him to counter that piece of advice.

He added that this team is not short on self-belief — something Matthews agreed with.

Matthews said after practice that everybody in a Blazer uniform is teeming with confidence, and that has by no means been the problem.

Then what is it your lacking? asked a reporter.

Answered Matthews: "Wins."

Camby good to go

After suffering a right ankle bruise against Dallas Saturday, Marcus Camby said he is going to play Tuesday vs. Washington.

"I'm ready to play," Camby said. "That's the plan."

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