C.J. McCollum has played the last three games with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture, or, in simpler terms, a lower back fracture, according to NBC Sports’ Dwight Jaynes. McCollum’s play since then has varied wildly. He scored 29 points on 11-of-21 shooting against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, but slipped to 16 points against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.
In Tuesday’s must-win matchup with the Dallas Mavericks, he scored only eight points on a miserable 2-of-14 shooting night, but he hit the two free throws that ultimately sealed Portland’s victory. McCollum has missed only four games this season, and is generally an iron man when it comes to injuries. Prior to last season, he had played at least 80 games three times in a row.
All indications suggest that McCollum will continue to play as Portland fights for its postseason life. Fortunately for the Blazers, others have stepped up as he has struggled. Gary Trent Jr. and Carmelo Anthony have been among the hottest shooters in the bubble, while the return of Jusuf Nurkic as their starting center has made a big difference on both ends of the floor.
The Trail Blazers moved into the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference by winning on Tuesday and watching the Memphis Grizzlies lose to the Boston Celtics. A win in their finale against the Brooklyn Nets would assure them the advantage of needing to lose twice in the play-in tournament in order to be knocked out of the postseason. Who they might play there will depend on the results of the rest of the week.
But no matter who it is, the Blazers will need a better version of McCollum than they had against the Mavericks if they plan to make any real noise in the postseason. Damian Lillard isn’t going to score 61 points every night (probably), so Portland’s best hope at reaching the postseason and challenging the No. 1 seeded Lakers when they’re involves McCollum providing at least some of the scoring he typically gives them.