Bonner not worried about shooting slump

By Jeff McDonald

PORTLAND, Ore. — When Matt Bonner arrived in San Antonio before the 2006-07 season, he was a 6-foot-10 ball of nerves who would practically flog himself after every mistake.

That usually led to more mistakes.

“If he missed a shot or made a turnover, he was a basket case,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “He just needed to relax, more than anything.”

Despite struggling through the worst shooting slump of an otherwise charmed fifth season with the Spurs, Bonner insists he won’t be jumping into the Willamette River if he has another bad game tonight in Portland.

Since connecting on 6 of 7 3-pointers in a March 4 rout of Miami — leading Tim Duncan to declare “game over” in the discussion of who is the team’s best long-ball artist — Bonner has made just 7 of 31 attempts from beyond the arc.

In the past, Bonner admits, such a slump would have driven him to the edge of despondency.

“Now, it really has no effect,” the 30-year-old reserve said. “I’m going to keep shooting if I’m open, because that’s my role.”

It says something about how well Bonner had been shooting this season that, even after a nine-game slide, he’s still leading the NBA in 3-point accuracy at 47.9 percent — a full two percentage points better than the second-place shooter, Boston’s Ray Allen.

Bonner remains on pace to break Steve Smith’s franchise record of 47.2 percent set in 2001-02. It is for that reason that Bonner’s teammates have encouraged him to keep hoisting shots.

“He’s human,” Manu Ginobili said. “He’s going to go through a bad stretch. Until now, he hasn’t gone through one. But he’s one of the best shooters in the league. He’ll be OK.”

Over time, Bonner — a former basket case — has learned to live with the bounces of the ball.

“Some nights you’re just off, and you feel off, and you just chalk it up to that,” he said. “Some nights the shots are right on line and they don’t go in, and it’s frustrating. That’s the life of a shooter.”

Scoring Splitter: Afforded an expanded role with Duncan nursing a sprained left ankle, rookie center Tiago Splitter has earned solid marks in his first extended action of the season.

In the past three games, Splitter has averaged 7.3 points and nine rebounds. This counts as a sign of progress for the 26-year-old Brazilian, who had appeared in only 47 of the Spurs’ first 63 games.

“Nobody expects me to score 25 points,” said Splitter, expected to start at center as long as Duncan is out. “That’s not my game.”

In the past three games, Splitter has logged a combined 67 minutes, 38 seconds of playing time, easily the most he’s received in consecutive games this season. His next goal is to ratchet up his conditioning level in order to better handle the increased workload.

“I’m not 100 percent in game shape,” said Splitter, who is averaging 11 minutes, 41 seconds per appearance. “It takes time and a couple games to be in shape.”

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