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Lillard and McCollum Stepping Up on Defense for the Trail Blazers

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Jason Quick of NBC Sports Northwest highlights the early-season defensive improvements by Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

With the help of improved defensive play from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, the Trail Blazers have started the new NBA season with three victories in four games. Jason Quick of NBC Sports Northwest spoke with members of the Blazers—including Lillard and McCollum—about the uptick in defensive intensity from Portland’s backcourt.

Reserve big man Ed Davis had this to say about Lillard’s obvious improvements:

“What they are doing now is just unbelievable. Especially Dame,’’ veteran center Ed Davis said. “He’s leading the offense and he’s coming down and getting stops. He’s playing the passing lanes. Taking charges. Diving on the floor for loose balls. And that’s your franchise. Usually you don’t want your franchise doing the dirty work, but he is setting the tone. Like, if he does it, who am I not to take a charge? Who am I not to dive on the floor? It just rubs off on everyone.’’

Lillard acknowledged the change in his approach, and made it clear that he wants to change his image on the defensive end.

“On the defensive end,’’ Lillard said, “they haven’t been able to look to me as that guy. I just felt like it was time I stepped it up on that end of the court and took the challenge of being a good defensive player.’’

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“I get tired of hearing about, ‘Well he does this, and this, and that … but he doesn’t play defense,’’’ Lillard said. “It matters. So that’s what it is.’’

The Blazers have been one of the top offensive teams in the league with Lillard and McCollum at the helm, but a lack of defense has kept Portland outside of the Western Conference’s elite. With that reality in mind, Lillard stated that he wanted to correct the defensive lapses this season.

“I came to camp and my mind was made up I was going to be more physical, more active, more vocal, and take more pride in it,’’ Lillard said. “I think everybody else came with that same attitude. We pretty much agreed that if we were a better defensive team we could have a special year.’’

While Portland’s start to the 2017-18 season on defense is encouraging, McCollum is aware that the NBA’s perception of him won’t change overnight.

“Now that I’m known as a poor defender, people are probably watching me, and paying more attention and going, ‘Oh, he’s not a terrible defender.’’’

The Blazers’ first major test will come next week, when they face a Toronto Raptors team that features a stellar backcourt made up of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

You can read Jason Quick’s full story by visiting NBC Sports Northwest.