Trail Blazers-Nuggets Preview
C.J. McCollum has been picking up the scoring slack for the Portland Trail Blazers with Damian Lillard injured. He may not have to do it any longer.
Lillard reportedly might be back to ease the load on McCollum on Sunday night when the Trail Blazers try to continue their recent success over the Denver Nuggets, who might be without Kenneth Faried.
Lillard played in every game through his first three seasons, and solidified himself as the face of the Trail Blazers (14-21) in 2015-16, averaging career highs of 24.6 points and 6.8 assists following the offseason departure of LaMarcus Aldridge to San Antonio.
However, he's been hurt for the first time since being selected sixth overall out of Weber State in 2012, missing the last six games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
Portland has split those games thanks in large part to McCollum. The guard is averaging 32.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists while hitting 53.4 percent from the floor - 12 of 26 from beyond the arc - over the past three games.
McCollum could've used some help in Thursday's 109-96 loss at Utah. He poured in 32 points with seven boards and six assists, while only Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe scored in double digits at 17 and 15, respectively.
"Defensively, we didn't do a good job pressuring the ball enough," McCollum said. "I think they were too comfortable, and that led to some easy baskets. Once a team gets comfortable, they begin to make more shots and begin to get excited on defense and then use that as momentum. I think that they were too comfortable."
That was the case for the Blazers on Wednesday, beating the Nuggets 110-103 at home while shooting 47.1 percent. McCollum connected on 12 of 19 shots to finish with 29 points.
Crabbe chipped in 20, and he's averaging 17.0 points in six games filling in for Lillard.
Lillard has 26.3 points per game while making 13 of 29 from long range over the last four matchups in Denver (12-22).
Portland has won nine of its last 10 meetings with the Nuggets, but the Northwest Division rivals have split two this season with each team winning on its home court.
Denver has lost five straight and eight of its last nine. The Nuggets put a scare into NBA-leading Golden State on the road Saturday, erasing a 26-point deficit before eventually losing 111-108 in overtime.
The Nuggets may have suffered a greater blow afterwords when Faried was taken to a hospital after leaving on a stretcher with a neck brace to stabilize him. The team claimed it was precautionary after he took an elbow to the back of the neck while jostling for a rebound late in overtime. He immediately reached to rub his neck but did not appear seriously injured. Faried had feeling in his hands and feet.
"Obviously any time you're dealing with a neck or back, it's scary," guard Jameer Nelson said. "I didn't see the play. We were playing. There are no dirty guys out there. Nobody did anything intentional. Hopefully he's good."
Faried leads the team with 9.0 rebounds per game, while his 12.6 points rank third.
Danilo Gallinari is looking to build on his 24 points from Saturday after missing six games with a left ankle sprain. The forward, though, has totaled 29 while missing 22 of 29 from the field - 12 of 14 from 3-point range - over his last four meetings with Portland.
Will Barton scored 31 at Portland on Wednesday and followed that with 21, 13 rebounds and seven assists against the Warriors.