Blazers bury resting Spurs

Lineup change pays off in easy win for Portland

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

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PORTLAND The story before the game was who was in the Trail Blazers’ starting lineup. The story during the game was who wasn’t in the Spurs’.

Tuesday morning, after a blowout loss to the Lakers in which Portland scored just seven-first quarter points, it was revealed that Jamal Crawford would replace Raymond Felton as the Blazers’ starting point guard.

What followed was a 137-97 win over San Antonio on Tuesday night a result significantly abetted the Spurs’ lack of participants.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich opted to rest power forward Tim Duncan and point guard Tony Parker, who have played in a combined 16 All-Star Games. Additionally, two-time All-Star Manu Ginobili missed his second consecutive game due to a strained left oblique muscle.

In other words, even though the visiting team came into the Rose Garden on an 11-game winning streak, Blazers vs. Spurs was essentially the equivalent of vacuum cleaner vs. lint. Not that Portland coach Nate McMillan would concede the win was a given.

“Sometimes that type of game can be challenge,” McMillan said. “Coach Popovich, I think it was about the same time last year, he rested some of his guys and they played well. You know they’re going to scrap. Sometimes it can be a letdown.”

The letdown for Portland (18-16) came one night earlier, when it managed just seven points in the opening stanza at Staples Center, the team’s lowest total in a quarter this year. Even before that game, Felton’s starting role had been an oft-discussed topic as the point guard continually struggled.

And while he seemed to temporarily curtail the criticism with a 14-point, eight-assist effort in a win Saturday over the Hawks those pitiful first 12 minutes in Los Angeles were enough for McMillan to make a change.

“I made the decision based on the rhythm in last night’s game,” said McMillan, insisting that the Laker game was the sole impetus for the switch, and that the change was not necessarily long-term. “I thought when (Crawford) got in the game, he got us into a pretty good flow.”

Felton did not express any discontent with the demotion, saying: “I’ll do what I have to do, I’m a professional. It’s all about team basketball.”

Crawford, meanwhile, accepted the alteration gracefully despite being a natural shooting guard. The primary benefit to starting?

“I don’t feel like I have to rush things,” he said.

Well, Tuesday, he rushed his point total up in a hurry, scoring 15 in the first quarter while hitting all four of his field-goal attempts which were all 3-pointers.

But Felton answered by scoring nine points in his first four minutes and knocking down three 3-pointers.

Their combined efforts, mixed with their teammates’ efficiency, sent Portland on a 22-0 run and put the team ahead 41-23 at the end of the first quarter.

As ESPN’s John Hollinger tweeted before the second quarter, “Analysis: Blazers’ first-quarter scoring up 485% in past 24 hours.”

The rest of the game would follow suit. The Blazers led by 23 at halftime, 38 after three, and 48 at one point in the fourth quarter while dropping San Antonio’s record to 23-10.

Seven players scored in double figures for Portland, including rookie Elliot Williams, who posted a career-high 17 points.

That said, despite the wire-to-wire dominance, McMillan still had key players on the floor in the fourth quarter.

Gerald Wallace was subbed out with 9:39 left in the game, as his team led by 43 points. Wesley Matthews came off the court at the same time but since he rolled his ankle, never returned.

McMillan was asked after the game if Matthews should have been on the court late in the game.

He responded: “Things like that happen.”

The Blazers will take the next eight days off for the All-Star break before meeting the Nuggets in Denver on Feb. 29. In the meantime, LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored a team-high 21 points, will head to Orlando to take part in his first All-Star Game.

Aldridge said that he is looking to having some fun but also wants to get some rest.

Wallace, meanwhile, said he plans on going home to Alabama, where he’s “gonna eat some bad food, drink some sodas, relax and enjoy the family and the kids.”

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