The Portland Trail Blazers are hopeful of seeing star guard Damian Lillard back on the floor Wednesday.
But even if Lillard misses his seventh straight game due to a groin injury, there certainly will be plenty of scoring punch in the building when the Trail Blazers host the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.
Shooting guard CJ McCollum has carried Portland during Lillard’s absence with a 33.3 scoring average in the six games, including twice posting a season-best 41 points.
“That’s what CJ does, he does it day in and day out,” guard Gary Trent Jr. told reporters of McCollum. “You see him work on it every day in practice so when it comes to game time, it looks as effortless and as flawless as it does, it’s no surprise.”
Washington shooting guard Bradley Beal is on his own tear by scoring 25 or more points in a franchise-record 19 consecutive games. Beal has exceeded 40 points on six occasions during the stretch, including outputs of 55 and 53 points.
Beal poured in 35 points on Tuesday night but the Wizards dropped a 133-126 decision to the host Sacramento Kings. It marked the ninth straight road game in which Beal scored 30 or more points.
However, the first half was atrocious for Washington as it fell behind 76-49 at the break and coach Scott Brooks strongly admonished his team in the locker room.
“In the first half, we just played like we weren’t there,” Beal said. “In the second half, the coach lit a fire up under us and we came out to be the team we should have been the whole game. I think we got the message for sure.”
It sure appeared that way as the Wizards caught the Kings at 90 with 2:39 remaining in the third quarter. But Sacramento regained its first-half form with 38 fourth-quarter points to hand Washington its fifth loss in the past seven games.
The Wizards are 4 1/2 games behind the Orlando Magic for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference entering the finale of a four-game road trip.
The Trail Blazers can relate to the uphill climb as they stand 3 1/2 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the West.
Portland is 2-4 without Lillard after rolling to a 130-107 road win over the Orlando Magic on Monday. McCollum led the way with 41 points.
Trent has played a bigger role with Lillard sidelined and he scored 24 points versus Orlando and the second-year pro has scored 15 or more points in three straight games.
“Gary has had a really good season and he’s gotten better as the season has gone along,” Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts told reporters. “We need it, frankly. Without Damian, we needed him. But now when Damian comes back, he’s gained a lot of confidence and (what) I continue to say about Gary is that as much as you look at his shot-making, his defense has kept him on the court more often than not.”
As for Washington, Beal isn’t the only player with a hot hand.
Forward Davis Bertans is a torrid 14-of-22 from 3-point range while averaging 23.5 over the past two games.
Center Thomas Bryant had 12 points in 19 minutes against the Kings but received a mixed review from Brooks.
“I thought T.B. gave us some toughness,” Brooks told reporters of Bryant. “And it’s unfortunate he didn’t start the game that way. We’ve got to be able to do that throughout the game.”
Portland center Hassan Whiteside recorded 23 points, 21 rebounds and five blocked shots as the Trail Blazers registered a 122-103 road win over the Wizards on Jan. 3. Lillard scored 35 points and McCollum added 24, while Beal sat out for Washington due to a leg injury.
–Field Level Media