Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum had missed a total of 10 games after suffering a popliteus strain in his left knee.
McCollum made his return on Sunday night to face the short-handed Nuggets in Portland’s third to last game of the regular season.
Getting back on the court was about shaking off rust and testing out his lungs, and McCollum felt he accomplished those two things in the Blazers 115-108 win over the Nuggets.
“Well, we won so that’s always a good thing,” McCollum said. “I felt like I was moving alright. I felt like defensively, laterally, I was just trying to work on some things that I wasn’t able to do on my own, just because of the lack of practices, but I felt like I was moving pretty well. I felt like my conditioning was in pretty good shape.”
It was back on March 16th in San Antonio when McCollum went down with the knee injury.
It was really a tale of two halves though for McCollum on Sunday.
It looked as though McCollum had not missed a beat early in the game, with him attacking the rim, being aggressive looking for his shot, finding his teammates, and hustling back on defense.
“I thought he looked really good early. He looked fresh. It looked like he had the legs. I don’t know if he kind of wore down a little bit as the game went on,” Stotts said.
In his first stint, McCollum went 3-of-6 from the field for nine points and dished out two assists in nine minutes of work.
CJ McCollum IS BACK and making up for lost time pic.twitter.com/52XO9qZVPk— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) April 8, 2019
McCollum played 14 minutes in the first half, finishing with nine points, four assists, and two rebounds by halftime.
He ended up playing 25 minutes for the game, and after going 3-of-7 in the first half, he shot 0-for-6 in the second half.
Most of McCollum’s shots in the final period fell short.
“I think he came out well… Obviously, once he gets his legs under him some of his shots that he’s taking, are gonna go in. I thought he passed the ball pretty well,” Evan Turner said postgame.
There was a moment in the first half, along the sideline that really showed how much McCollum was ready to return.
At the 8:58 mark of the second quarter when McCollum got his nane called off the bench, he sprinted to the scorer’s table to get back in the game. That sprint looked to prove McCollum wanted to test his conditioning and also forget about any kind of knee injury.
“I felt like I was pretty free flowing with my movement. I felt pretty comfortable with doing a lot of stuff… Just tried to play a normal game,” McCollum said.
“If there was any pain, I wouldn’t play,” McCollum added.
Not having any sort of pain in his knee was a deciding factor in the 27-year-old returning to the court.
“I haven’t had any pain in a long time,” he said. “That was part of the process of just making sure it was strong enough to go out there and do stuff without thinking about it. You know, move without thinking about it and being able to get lift, and contest, push off, and jump, and stuff like that.”
Damian Lillard was also happy to have his running mate back by his side.
“I thought he played well. He didn’t force his way into the game. He kind of found his rhythm, saw some shots go in. It was good to see him play in crowd sometimes, you know, just play his game,” Lillard said.
The Blazers were also pleased to find out how Coach Stotts will play his guys moving forward with McCollum back and still no Jusuf Nurkic for the postseason.
For Turner, it was nice “figuring out the rotation so we won’t be going in, kind of shocked,” into their first round playoff series.
There’s still a question mark around how many minute McCollum will get in the final two games of the season with them being back-to-back. He may not play at all in one of them.
The playoff picture will most likely play a big role in deciding McCollum’s playing time over the next two games. Now that the Blazers won Sunday and the Jazz lost the Lakers, the Blazers magic number for homecourt is down to just one game.
Even though Coach Stotts would not definitively say if he expects McCollum to play normal minutes come playoff time, McCollum feels he will have no restrictions one the postseason starts.
“That was the whole point of me coming back now,” McCollum said.