It was a mostly silent Moda Center when CJ McCollum took the court about two hours before Saturday’s Trail Blazers game. The music had yet to start blaring from the speakers above, and there were only a limited amount of players on the court.
It was quiet enough to hear McCollum engage in what would be an important conversation … with himself.
“Get up!” McCollum told himself as he attempted a shot.
The next shot, it was the same thing. “Get up!’’
And so it went for the next 15, 20 minutes.
“Get up!” … Swish ... “Get up!” ... Swish.
Nearly every shot was accompanied by a reminder to both get arc under his shot, and lift from his legs.
“Sometimes, my shot is a little flat,’’ McCollum said. “I’m shooting more of a line drive, so I just remind myself that I’ve got to get it up.’’
The pregame reminders seemed to work: McCollum hit his first four shots in the first 2:25 of the game to set the tone for the Blazers’ 108-96 win against the Lakers.
All told, McCollum had 28 points on 12-of-20 shooting, including 4-of-7 from three-point range as the Blazers (7-10) won for the third time in four games.
McCollum, who is averaging 20.4 points while shooting 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range, says he often talks to himself during shooting routines. Usually, he talks to himself in his mind during morning sessions at the team’s practice facility. Other times, he is more audible. Either way, he find the personal reminders offer “positive reinforcement.”
“We shoot so many shots that sometimes, you baby it, hold back a little bit,’’ McCollum said. “So I remind myself to get it up, let it go.’’
On Saturday, he more than let it go. He scored 19 of his 28 points in the first half, when he made 8-of-12 shots. The early spurt, when he scored the Blazers’ first nine points, was so emphatic that his teammates couldn’t help but notice.
His backcourt mate, Damian Lillard, said he knew exactly what to do when he saw McCollum’s start.
“Ride it out,’’ Lillard said. “Try to find him as much as I can. I think we all understand CJ is a guy who can run off a bunch of points at a time. At the start of the game, we saw that he hit that first one, so I kept trying to call plays for him and find him in transition.’’
That early connection between Lillard and McCollum piggybacked off a pregame conversation between the two. McCollum said Lillard told him he needed to be aggressive against the Lakers. And when McCollum hit his first couple of shots, he said he flashed Lillard a look that included a knowing smile, a nod that he was feeling it.
“And he was OK with that,’’ McCollum said. “That’s what great players do, they don’t just score, they recognize who has the hot hand.’’
A hot hand that perhaps was ignited by a little pregame conversation with himself.