Two tough games await Blazers before All-Star break

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers Writer



Before Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge can head to New Orleans to represent the Portland Trail Blazers during NBA All-Star weekend, there are still two more games to play.

The first of which comes on Tuesday night when they welcome the Western Conference’s best team and best player, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In addition to the intrigue that comes with the Thunder’s place in the standings, the Blazers also have an opportunity to win the season series against the Thunder.

The Blazers are four games back of the Thunder for first place in the West and the Thunder have impressively risen in the standings despite not having Russell Westbrook since late December.

The Blazers, too, have been shorthanded as of late as Mo Williams continues to be away from the team with a personal issue. As of Monday, there had been no update on when Williams is expected to rejoin the team.

That likely means that there will be more time for rookie CJ McCollum to get out on the court. When Damian Lillard got in foul trouble and Earl Watson picked up four fouls Saturday against Minnesota, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts turned the keys over to the rookie from Lehigh.

“I feel more comfortable every game,” McCollum told reporters on Saturday. “Obviously I’m a confident person and I put a lot of work in and trust myself. But it’s more about game trust, team trust and coach trust.”

Stotts has preached trust in his bench players throughout the season, even while his rotations have become a focus.

McCollum poured in 19 points off the bench and while they may not need 19 points again, the Blazers bench will have to collectively step up if they are without Williams, who averages nine points and nearly five assists per game.

Oklahoma City bounced back on Sunday against the New York Knicks after losing on a fast-break dunk against Orlando on Feb. 7.

The Blazers won’t be able to coast into the All-Star break as they will travel to Los Angeles on Wednesday to face the Clippers, who just got All-Star point guard Chris Paul back from injury.

The second game of a back-to-back for the Blazers is an opportunity for the Clippers to make up ground on the Blazers, who are 11/2 games ahead of the Clippers for the third spot in the Western Conference.