CJ McCollum made his return to the court on Monday evening, and the Portland Trail Blazers blew out the Orlando Magic on the road 98-88. It wasn’t nearly that close. McCollum was seeing his first action of 2022 following an 18-game absence which started with a scary punctured lung injury way back on Dec. 4 and culminated with the birth of his first child just last Tuesday.
The Blazers are in a very different place than they were a month ago, so It’s anybody’s guess between McCollum and the rest of the team, which side had more adjusting to do. To his credit, It didn’t appear that CJ’s presence did anything to disrupt the flow the team has played with as of late - he even enhanced it. The ball didn’t stick and the Blazers were able to involve multiple guys on offense. McCollum picked his spots here and there, but ultimately kept his presence minimal as not to step on any toes. It looked great. For the most part.
Jusuf Nurkic was an absolute monster - posting a ridiculous 21 points and 22 rebounds to go along with 4 steals, 2 blocks and probably a number of bruises. McCollum added 16 in the win.
For the first half of the opening period, Portland could do little wrong. Nurkic continued to be nightmare fuel in the post, where he borderline assaulted defenders who tried to compete with his nearly inhuman size. The threat of bodily harm looked to make Orlando stiff, and the Blazers were able to move the ball with ease from the inside-out.
It also helped that the Magic came out downright allergic to the three ball at the other end, missing all 11 attempts in the quarter. This allowed Portland to gain a comfortable foothold as they built an early 18-7 lead - it didn’t look like Orlando was going to have much fight.
A careless stretch of turnovers and poor shooting squandered much of that advantage, as the Magic finished the quarter on a 10-4 run, but the Blazers still looked to be in control leading 22-17.
The depleted second units for both sides battled to a standstill, but when the starters came back midway through the second quarter, it was all Portland again. Nassir Little was lightning in a bottle, making plays all over the floor. Whether it was chasing down offensive boards or scoring in transition, it seemed like wherever the ball was, Little’s body would soon be crashing into that location. He had 6 points down the stretch as part of a 16-2 Blazer run heading into the break, and that really seemed to sap whatever remained of Orlando’s spirit.
Nurkic continued to put the “pain” in “paint”. He had a double-double in just the first half, and Portland cruised into the locker room with a 54-40 lead.
After a frontcourt-dominated first half, it was the backcourt’s turn to do damage. None of the guards had exemplary shooting nights, but Anfernee Simons and Ben McLemore each started to find their outside stroke in the third and tossed in 6 points apiece. It was more than the Blazers needed, as the Magic went from “cooked” to “extra crispy” - Orlando couldn’t buy a bucket when they needed it and Portland casually kept building on their lead. The Blazers held a commanding 81-61 advantage heading into the fourth.
Chauncey Billups left the starters in deep into the final frame - partly because he doesn’t have enough guys not to - but the final outcome was never in doubt.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the evening coming soon!
The Blazers will get a day off before heading south to take on the Miami Heat Wednesday evening at 4:30 p.m. Pacific.