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Ailing Blazers hope to get well in visit to Magic

Sportsnaut
Dec 4, 2021; Portland, Oregon, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) dribbles the ball during the second half against the Boston Celtics at Moda Center. The Celtics won 145-117. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 4, 2021; Portland, Oregon, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) dribbles the ball during the second half against the Boston Celtics at Moda Center. The Celtics won 145-117. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers hope to have one of their top players available when they continue a six-game road trip with a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day matchup against the Orlando Magic.

Veteran guard CJ McCollum missed Portland’s 115-110 victory over the Washington Wizards on Saturday due to return-to-competition reconditioning. McCollum has averaged 20.6 points, 4.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 24 games this season, but he has not played since Dec. 4 because of a collapsed lung.

McCollum’s return on Monday would provide additional depth for Portland, which is eight games under the .500 mark and 10th in the Western Conference. The roster has felt its share of adversity, with six-time All-Star Damian Lillard undergoing surgery on Jan. 13 to repair a painful core injury.

Portland’s third-leading scorer, Norman Powell (18.6 points per game), was placed on the COVID-19 list ahead of a Jan. 9 home win over Sacramento and has missed the last four games. Larry Nance Jr. and Cody Zeller are battling right knee injuries and have missed five and two games, respectively.

Nevertheless, Portland enters the third leg of its road swing having won three of its last four games. Jusuf Nurkic posted 23 points and 14 rebounds on Saturday as the Trail Blazers won for just the third time in 17 games away from home.

Anfernee Simons, a Central Florida native who spent part of his prep career at Edgewater High School in Orlando, scored 26 of his 31 points in the first half against Washington. Simons played 40 minutes, dished out 11 assists (tying a career high) and made 7 of 14 3-pointers.

The 22-year-old Simons was asked postgame about playing in Orlando, and the 6-foot-3 guard was understandably happy about the opportunity.

“It’s going to be a fun night,” Simons said. “Being able to play back at home and having all my family and friends come to the game, all the childhood friends and friends from high school and stuff. So, it’s gonna be a fun night.”

Orlando has several in-game activities planned for Monday, including the Magic players wearing custom MLK Day warm-up T-shirts. The Magic, who have a league-worst eight wins this season, are 2-15 at home, and they have lost seven straight at the Amway Center since a 108-103 comeback win over Denver on Dec. 1.

Head coach Jamahl Mosley’s team returns home after splitting a road back-to-back.

Orlando stopped a 10-game losing streak with a 116-109 win at Charlotte on Friday as brothers Moritz Wagner (season-high 26 points) and Franz Wagner combined for 45 points. But the Magic had a slow start on Saturday and never recovered in a 108-92 loss to Dallas, dropping them to 0-19 this season when scoring less than 100 points.

The back-to-back marked Jalen Suggs’ return to the Magic lineup. Suggs, who has missed 21 games during his rookie season due to injury, came off the bench against Charlotte and Dallas and averaged about 23 minutes with 14.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists to go along with nine total turnovers and seven personal fouls.

“I do like his aggression,” Mosley said of Suggs following the Dallas loss. “Obviously, he’s understanding the (situations) and picking and choosing his time of getting to the rim. … He did a good job of being aggressive early on.”

Orlando has played the last five games without Wendell Carter Jr. as he deals with a sore left hamstring.

–Field Level Media