Trail Blazers-Suns Preview
The Portland Trail Blazers’ overhauled roster figured to give new opportunities for its remaining players, and C.J. McCollum was the first to seize his chance.
Following a career-best scoring performance, McCollum will try to lead the Blazers to their best start in four seasons Friday night against the Phoenix Suns.
Portland retained one member of last season’s starting lineup, Damian Lillard, and lost three players to free agency with franchise great LaMarcus Aldridge easily the most notable departure. The Blazers, though, looked in sync with a 112-94 victory over New Orleans on Wednesday that extended their streak of season-opening victories to a league-best 15.
McCollum scored 37 points, topping his previous regular-season high by 10, in his fourth career start and had 28 in the first half. The guard averaged 6.3 points in his first two seasons.
"It’s been a long time coming for me," McCollum said. "I’ve worked so hard for this moment to get an opportunity to play opening night and the coaching staff to have trust in me."
McCollum gave a glimpse of his potential in the final month of the 2014-15 season and an opening-round playoff loss to Memphis.
He averaged 15.6 points on 53.2 percent shooting in the final eight games, and 25.7 points on 60.9 percent shooting in the last three of the five matchups with the Grizzlies.
"I’ve been telling you guys that (McCollum) can play, and he can explode," Lillard said. "I think you guys got a chance to see it last year in the playoffs just a little bit. Tonight, you guys saw what we’ve been seeing for two, three years now in practice, him just making shots, and tough shots."
Lillard, who finished with 21 points and 11 assists, will next try to send Portland to its first 2-0 start since it took the first three games in 2011-12 and first win in a road opener since 2010.
The Blazers will also seek a fourth consecutive win over Phoenix, which struggled in its season debut Wednesday.
The Suns trailed by 27 points in the third quarter of a 111-95 loss to visiting Dallas. Last season’s leading scorer, Eric Bledsoe (17.0), missed eight of 12 shots and finished with 13.
One of Phoenix’s other top scorers from 2014-15, Markieff Morris, fared even worse with four points on 1-of-6 shooting. Devin Booker had 14 points off the bench while making six of seven shots in his NBA debut, one shy of matching Brandon Knight’s team-best 15.
"I think everybody from top to bottom can take a piece of this loss," said center Tyson Chandler, who had three points and six rebounds in his first game for the Suns.
Chandler will try to help Phoenix avoid its worst start and worst at home since 2011-12 on a night where the franchise will induct two-time league MVP Steve Nash into its Ring of Honor. The Suns haven’t been to the playoffs since Nash was on their roster in 2009-10.
Phoenix had won seven consecutive home games over Portland until an 87-81 loss March 27.