Blazers’ McCollum out to ride hot hand against Lakers

NBA
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The Portland Trail Blazers are enjoying their best stretch of the season and the play of shooting guard CJ McCollum has been a prime reason for the success.

McCollum will look to help Portland record its fifth victory in its past six games when it hosts the scorching-hot Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night.

McCollum has matched a career best by scoring 20 or more points in 10 straight games. He was exceptionally on the mark when he scored 33 points on 14-of-22 shooting — including 5 of 10 from 3-point range — in Wednesday’s 127-116 home win over the Sacramento Kings.

McCollum also had a career-high four blocked shots as well as four rebounds and four assists in a solid all-around effort.

“I work extremely hard on my craft every day,” McCollum said of his 20-point streak during a postgame television interview. “Taking care of my body and getting my sleep, nutrition, massages and rest. I’m not surprised. The staff does a great job of helping me out and putting me in position to succeed and I just go do the rest.”

McCollum has made at least 50 percent of his shots in eight of 10 games during the streak and nine of his last 12 overall.

That’s a major change from the first 12 games when he shot exactly 50 percent once and was below the mark in the other 11. McCollum suffered through a 4-of-19 effort against the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 8 while scoring a season-low eight points and also endured a 5-of-18 contest while tallying 12 versus the Denver Nuggets on Oct. 23.

But McCollum said the slow start didn’t faze him even if there were plenty of critics delivering venom over his performances.

“I know who I am as a basketball player. I know what I’m capable of doing,” McCollum told reporters. “My body of work proves itself, it shows who I am as a basketball player. So if I have two or three poor games, poor shooting nights, I don’t get discouraged because it’s an 82-game season.”

The Lakers have been viewing each outing as a one-game season and the formula is working well as the club’s 19-3 record is tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the best in the NBA.

Los Angeles is looking to finish off a three-game road sweep that includes impressive victories over the Nuggets (105-96) and Utah Jazz (121-96). Wednesday’s win over the Jazz ended the team’s eight-game skid in Utah.

The triumph included a 32-5 edge in fast-break points as the Lakers forced 20 turnovers.

“We’ve got a good team,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said afterward. “We have high aspirations. We’re trying to keep a game-to-game, stay-in-the-moment focus throughout the year.”

While Anthony Davis scored 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting and fellow star LeBron James had 20 points and 12 assists, the defense fueled the victory with 13 steals and 12 blocked shots.

Forward Kyle Kuzma had four steals and three blocks while Davis and reserve center Dwight Howard each had three rejections.

Howard, a former star, is one of the players accepting a smaller role than which they are accustomed, but he is bullish about the club’s potential.

“We can accomplish anything we want if we keep our minds on the prize which is the championship,” Howard said after the rout of Utah. “Every night we step on the floor we want to have fun but we have to keep in mind that we’re trying to win a championship. We have to have that mentality every time we make a play. Defense, offense, on the bench. Championship mentality.”

Point guard Rajon Rondo, another veteran accepting a minor role, scored 14 points and registered season bests of 12 assists and nine rebounds versus the Jazz.

Los Angeles will be looking to deal with Portland’s suddenly balanced attack. Forward Carmelo Anthony scored 20 points against Sacramento for his third 20-point effort in eight games since joining the team.

Star point guard Damian Lillard recorded 24 points and 10 assists while center Hassan Whiteside contributed a career-high seven assists to go with 22 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots.

The Lakers won two of last season’s final three meetings after Portland prevailed in the previous 15 series matchups.

–Field Level Media

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