Tuesday's matchup between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Phoenix Suns at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore., features two of the hottest young guards in the NBA — and we're not talking about Damian Lillard.
Portland's CJ McCollum matched his career high with 37 points to lift the Trail Blazers (4-3) past the Memphis Grizzlies 100-94 Sunday at the FedEx Forum.
Phoenix's Devin Booker scored career-high 38 points in Friday's 112-111 victory over New Orleans, then followed that with a new career high of 39 points in a 119-108 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
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McCollum, 25, scored 16 of his points in the fourth quarter during a game when backcourt mate Lillard struggled to a 3-for-11 shooting performance, in part due to minor thumb and ankle injuries. McCollum was 13 for 23 from the field, including 6 for 12 on 3-pointers.
“We needed CJ in this one, and he came through big-time,” Lillard said.
While Lillard has played well enough to earn mention in early Most Valuable Player discussions, McCollum has quietly averaged 21.4 points. That's on pace to exceed the fourth-year pro's scoring totals of a year ago, when he averaged 20.8 points and earned the NBA's Most Improved Player Award.
“I've been getting the shots I've worked on, been getting to my spots,” McCollum said. “I don't really worry about making or missing shots. That will even out over the course of a season. I want to be in a good flow. I felt that way (against the Grizzlies).”
Booker, who turned 20 on Oct. 30, became the youngest player in NBA history with back-to-back games of at least 38 points. It's also the first time a Suns player has scored at least 38 in consecutive games since Tom Chambers in 1990. Booker is one of eight players in league history to post multiple scoring games of at least 38 points under the age of 21.
“It doesn't matter,” Booker told reporters afterward. “It's another game, especially after we lose. If we win, I get more excited about it. It's about wins and losses. Maybe later in my career, I can look back at things like that, but now I'm in the mindset where I am ready to get wins.
“Everybody looks good when you win. That's what we're trying to do. Scoring as many points as you want and not making the playoffs is not a good look. My ultimate goal is to make the playoffs.”
Booker, who is averaging 23.0 points in the regular season, bombed in 34 points while playing only the first three quarters of a preseason contest in Portland. He scored only 15 in the Suns' 118-115 overtime victory over the Blazers at US Airways Center last Wednesday.
Both teams are hoping for improved defensive performances. Phoenix is last in the NBA in scoring defense (113.3 points per game) and 22nd in opponents' field-goal percentage (.452). Portland is 25th in scoring defense (109.3) but the Blazers have climbed into a tie for sixth in opponents' field-goal percentage (.436).
“We've been good defensively since the second half of the Phoenix game,” Lillard said. “It's something we want to do. We want to be a better team; everybody is taking that challenge. Every possession, it means something to me. Like, 'I'm not going to get hit by pick-and-rolls.' I think everybody has that type of attitude.”