Blazers happy to see different faces

Preseason opens tonight against L.A. Lakers

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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TUALATIN, Ore. — The Terry Stotts era begins tonight inside a California arena that normally hosts minor-league hockey in the fall and the 2012 Lingerie Bowl champions, L.A. Temptation, come springtime.

Seating capacity will roughly be the Rose Garden sliced in half, and the overwhelming number of those 10,832 fans will be draped in Laker purple and gold.

It's suburbia Inland Empire, raised pickup trucks in Sam's Clubs parking lots. But it's still basketball, and thank goodness for that.

"Yeah, finally. Like a normal game, a normal NBA game," forward Nicolas Batum said, his eyes widening with the thought of the Trail Blazers' preseason debut in Ontario, Calif. "You get tired playing the same guy everyday. So I want to be in a real game and play somebody else."

That "somebody else" will be the new-look Los Angeles Lakers, with their new point guard, new center and new offense.

Sounds familiar?

Since last season, the Blazers have overhauled the organization, beginning with the arrival of Stotts, in his third tenure as an NBA head coach, and a cast of new faces (rookie point guard Damian Lillard) mixed with players in new positions (starting center J.J. Hickson).

As far as the offense — well, that's so new that after one week into training camp, the complete Portland playbook has yet to be revealed.

"We probably won't see everything. We don't even have everything put in yet," third-year guard Wesley Matthews said. "It's just going to be a lot of 'motion.' A lot of 'flow.' A lot of energy."

Although preseason games register a yawn — try getting All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge to wax poetically about early October basketball: "I'm just a vet, just trying to stay in shape." — this seven-game stretch of dress rehearsals should be significant if only for the fact that Stotts needs this time to continue perfecting his product.

"Just trying to get the team going in the right direction," Stotts said. "I think they're ready and I'm ready to play against somebody new, somebody who doesn't know our plays, somebody that we can bang on other than ourselves. We're ready for our game."

Perhaps the flight to Ontario dominated their thoughts, but the Blazers did not impress Stotts during practice on Tuesday. He described the work as "just OK." After the session, Stotts disclosed that he'll try to work a good number of players into the rotation but no one will see more than 24 minutes of time on the court.

The rotation might be easier to figure out than expected.

Rookie guard Will Barton did not make the trip, staying behind in Portland to receive rehabilitation treatment for a strained hamstring. Second-year guard Nolan Smith, who Stotts has previously praised for his work ethic, was also held out of practice after hyperextending his left knee. Smith traveled with the team but could be limited for Wednesday's action.