Why Blazers' McCollum must channel his play from 2019 West semis in Orlando
Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum was balling out in early and mid-May last year.
McCollum, one of the NBA's most underrated scorers, had arguably the best stretch of his career during the 2019 Western conference semifinals.
He led the Trail Blazers in scoring, averaging 26.4 points per game and shooting 37.5% from the 3-point line to lead his team to a series win over the Denver Nuggets.
Now, the Trail Blazers are in an unprecedented predicament.
They are one of the 22 teams that will compete during the league's Orlando restart, but they remain on the outskirts of the playoffs.
With eight seeding games ahead, Portland is the ninth seed and is 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies. The Trail Blazers' first seeding game is against Memphis on July 31.
Damian Lillard has continued to build his stellar career, and he'll surely be ready to play as hard as possible to lead his team. But as Portland's No. 2 scorer, McCollum will need to channel his play from the Nuggets series for the Blazers to have a shot at competing in this year's playoffs.
Last year's series between the Trail Blazers and Nuggets was one of the most entertaining of the postseason. Game 3 of the series was an all-timer, as the Blazers snagged a 140-137 win in quadruple overtime to take a 2-1 series lead.
McCollum was brilliant, tying a playoff career-high of 41 points, grabbing eight rebounds and shooting 36.4% from the 3-point line.
As a crafty dribbler, McCollum is tough to guard because of how committed he is to getting to his spots. He is a midrange warrior, and he scored 24.4% of his points in the midrange during that game, according to NBA.com stats.
McCollum had another elite performance during Game 7. He nearly had a double-double, scoring a game-high 37 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Portland defeated Denver, 100-96, to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
The beginning of the video above is a perfect example of McCollum's midrange scoring prowess. Portland was up 96-95 in Game 7 with under 20 seconds left, and it needed to cushion its lead.
McCollum sized up Torrey Craig, and as he went slightly left, he went downhill toward the free throw line. He created just enough separation with a pull-back dribble and made the jumper to put the Trail Blazers up by three.
That kind of tough move will be needed as the Blazers work to climb toward the eighth seed. After their first game against the Grizzlies, the Blazers then have the Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks and Brooklyn Nets ahead.
The Nets are the worst team on that schedule, but each of the other games will be tough. The Celtics, Clippers and Sixers boast some of the top defenses in the league.
Each game is going to matter, especially considering the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings will vie for the eighth seed as well.
This season, McCollum has continued to shine. He has scored 22.5 points per game, dished 4.3 assists a game and shot 38.0% from deep on a career-high 7.4 attempts.
Though he's never been an All-Star, McCollum does have All-Star worthy talent. Playing in the West, a conference loaded with stars, has been a factor in McCollum's lack of All-Star appearances.
The Blazers have a tough path ahead to the postseason. But as an underrated offense, they'll need McCollum, perhaps the most slept on guard in the league, to play a significant role in lifting them to the playoffs.