Saturday, September 24, 2022

Preview: New Orleans Pelicans (32-43) at Portland Trail Blazers (27-48)

CJ McCollum will play in Portland for the first time as a visiting player when the New Orleans Pelicans face the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

It promises to be an emotional night for the 30-year-old McCollum, a fan favorite who played eight-plus seasons with the Trail Blazers until being traded to the Pelicans in early February.

McCollum teamed up with Damian Lillard to give the Trail Blazers one of the NBA’s most productive backcourts. He ranks fifth in franchise history with 10,710 points and second in 3-pointers with 1,297.

“I’m very happy I was able to make memories and have eight playoff appearances,” McCollum said of his tenure in Portland. “I was OK with the trade. I wasn’t caught off-guard, I wasn’t surprised. … That organization and franchise meant a lot to me. It was a happy break-up.”

McCollum certainly will get a rousing ovation when he’s introduced. In addition to his on-court exploits, he was heavily involved in the community.

“I think it’s going to be so much fun for everybody to have CJ back in the building,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “He’s probably going to be overwhelmed with all the love that he gets from our locker room, the fans. It’s much deserved, so I’m happy to see him. I’m not happy to game-plan for him, obviously.”

McCollum was sent to the Pelicans as part of a seven-player trade after the Trail Blazers decided to rebuild their roster in the midst of a disappointing season. Josh Hart was the biggest name Portland received in the deal.

McCollum has flourished in New Orleans and is averaging 25.9 points, 6.5 assists and 4.9 rebounds in 19 games. He averaged 20.5 points in 36 games with the Trail Blazers this season.

“I’m loving the situation,” McCollum said. “I think it’s a match made in heaven. I’m happy to be here. I think the cool part is that I haven’t had to make any real adjustments. The way I play is the right way.”

The Pelicans (32-43) are in ninth place in the Western Conference. Entering Tuesday’s play, New Orleans was a half-game ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers and one game ahead of the San Antonio Spurs in a three-way battle for the final two play-in spots.

The Pelicans rallied from a 23-point deficit to post a 116-108 home win over the Lakers on Sunday. Brandon Ingram (hamstring) returned from a 10-game absence to score 26 points during a contest in which New Orleans outscored Los Angeles 67-39 in the second half.

The visit to Portland is the first of a four-game road swing and McCollum might not recognize some of the players wearing Trail Blazers’ uniforms.

The entire starting five from the outset of the season is gone. Lillard (abdomen) and Jusuf Nurkic (foot) sustained season-ending injuries, while Norman Powell and Robert Covington were traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. Anfernee Simons (quadriceps) also has been shut down for the season.

Portland (27-48) had just eight available players when it lost 134-131 in overtime to the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night. It was the team’s fourth straight defeat and 14th in 16th games.

Reserve Ben McLemore matched his season high of 28 points and equaled his career best of eight 3-pointers. Journeyman Drew Eubanks scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, while rookie Brandon Williams scored 25 points and set career highs of 12 assists and five 3-pointers.

Portland never trailed in the last 18:03 of regulation but Oklahoma City’s Isaiah Roby forced overtime with a 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds left. The Thunder outplayed the Trail Blazers in the extra session.

“We played hard. We played our butts off,” Billups said. “Had our opportunities, but kind of lost focus at some really important times.”

New Orleans recorded a 111-97 home win over the Trail Blazers on Dec. 21. The teams meet again in New Orleans on April 7.

Ty Gaston

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