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CJ McCollum Felt Unguardable Before Nuggets Game Began

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McCollum exploded for 39 points against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, feeling a big night coming before the opening tip.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

CJ McCollum (39) and Jusuf Nurkic (33) combined for 72 of the Portland Trail Blazers’ 122 points in their Tuesday night victory over the Denver Nuggets. McCollum had the hot hand all game, shooting 15-24 from the field—including 3-5 from deep—and a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line, but he felt in rhythm before he even set foot on the court.

McCollum has long been a vocal proponent of the pre-game nap and, apparently, Tuesday’s was a good one. He was in the perfect headspace the moment he left the pillow.

“When I got out of bed from my nap at about 3:15; that’s when I felt like they couldn’t guard me.”

Of course, while catching a few z’s can be helpful, the real story is McCollum’s killer mentality that makes him so dangerous on the court—and that’s a constant. He habitually positions himself for heightened acuity off the court, in order to benefit in-game. Sometimes he just feels great and it’s obvious to his teammates.

Point guard Damian Lillard saw McCollum exuding confidence early on last night, and knew McCollum needed the ball, per Trail Blazers digital reporter Casey Holdahl:

According to Lillard, when McCollum starts preening, it’s time to start feeding.

“When he starts talking,” said Lillard of how he knows when his backcourt partner is starting to heat up. “When he starts making shots and he starts getting the crowd into it I know that he feels something within himself. Tonight I saw some of the shots — double move and the guy would be right in his face and he’ll pull up in the guys face. That’s when it’s my job to recognize that.”

After the game, Nuggets head coach Mike Malone said of McCollum that his players “just weren’t able to guard him tonight.” McCollum’s 39-point performance was four short of his career-high.