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BY KERRY EGGERS/TRIBUNE SPORTS/McCollum, Lillard, Whiteside and Anthony have big games as Portland rolls

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Pictured in a recent game against Oklahoma City, guard CJ McCollum (3) was one of several Trail Blazers who had big nights in Wednesday's win over Sacramento.Ruminations on the Trail Blazers 127-116 victory over Sacramento Wednesday night at Moda Center ...

• Portland had balanced scoring, with four players tallying 20 or more points for the second time this season. But the biggest star was CJ McCollum, who bombed in 33 points in 37 minutes as the Blazers (9-13) won for the fourth time in five outings.

McCollum had one of the best halves of his career in the first half, scoring 23 points on 10-for-13 shooting. The 6-3 guard also had four blocked shots in the half — a career high for a game.

"I was impressed with his shot-blocking," said teammate Hassan Whiteside, whose 10 blocks last Friday against Chicago set a franchise record. "I was going to ask him for some tips."

McCollum seemed to have a good read on the Kings' Buddy Hield, who he swatted three times.

"I knew Buddy was going to be aggressive coming to the paint," McCollum said. "I just tried to time my jump."

McCollum finished with 14-for-22 shooting, including 5 for 10 from 3-point range. He had four rebounds, four assists and four blocks.

"CJ had it going," Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

McCollum had a few sub-par offensive performances early in the season, but in the last 13 games the seventh-year pro has been dynamite, averaging 24.4 points. He has scored 20 or more in each of the last 10 games, matching a career high.

"I'm a good player," said McCollum, who averaged 20 points or more in each of the previous four seasons. "I know what I'm capable of doing. My body of work speaks for itself. If I have two, three, four poor shooting nights, I don't get discouraged. It's an 82-game season."

• The other three players who scored at least 20 against the Kings (8-12) were Damian Lillard (24 with 10 assists) Hassan Whiteside (22) and Carmelo Anthony (20).

The 7-1 Whiteside also had 16 rebounds and a career-high seven assists, falling three assists short of his first points/rebounds/assists triple-double. The veteran center had four points/rebounds/blocks triple-doubles while with Miami.

"He had a few backdoors," Lillard said. "He was catching it in the pocket under control and finding the weak side, and that let to some quality shots. He could have had 10 (assists) if he hadn't gotten too anxious and gotten some of them tipped."

"I don't mind passing," Whiteside said. "I'm going to get better at making decisions. We got 60 more games? Game 30, 40, 50, 60, I'll keep getting better. I'm new to this system. I'm new to these guys. I'm going to keep working."

And the backdoor passes?

"I love that pass," he said, smiling. "It's my favorite pass to make. I should have gone to Princeton."

• Whiteside is shooting .753 at the free-throw line this season, not earth-shattering news unless you consider he shot .449 a year ago with the Heat. His career percentage going into this season: .593.

Whiteside spent time in Los Angeles last summer working with shooting coach Chris Matthews, a.k.a. "Lethal Shooter."

"Two hours a day we worked on form shooting for 15, 20 days straight," Whiteside said. "I'm actually shooting a free throw now. The last three years, I was shooting a jump shot. I'm taking a set free throw now. I also changed my hand placement and my routine.

"I worked on not only free throws but form shooting. If I need to shoot a mid-range jumper, I feel confident. Even if I had to shoot a 3, I'm confident in myself in making it."

Let's not get carried away ...

• Along with Whiteside, you could make a case for Kent Bazemore being the Blazers' most consistently strong defender this season. He's more than adequate guarding an opponent one-on-one, but it's the run-down play to swat away a layup or dunk attempt in transition that he excels. Bazemore might the best Blazer at chasing a foe down for a spectacular block since Jerome Kersey.

"I remember doing it back in high school (in Windsor, North Carolina)," the 6-5 shooting guard said. "(Detroit's) Tayshaun Prince was the first guy I saw do it on a very big stage. In the Eastern Conference finals against the Pacers, he was running down Reggie Miller in pivotal plays.

"(Run-downs by) LeBron James ... Andre Iguodala ... those are plays who change the whole landscape of the game. In college (at Old Dominion), I used to block it out of bounds, and my coaches got mad at me. Now I try to keep it in play."

While Bazemore's defense has been precious, his offense has been suspect this season. Going into the Sacramento game, Bazemore was shooting an identical .338 from the field and 3-point range. Against the Kings, he scored a season-high 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, including 3 for 5 from beyond the arc.

"My workouts have been great all season," Bazemore said. "I've been shooting the crap out of it. It's just a matter of time. I was talking to 'Dame' before the game, trying to figure out how I was going to pick my spots. He did a good job of giving me an idea how to get some open 3's. This is a lot different offense than I'm used to. It was nice to hit a couple of shots."

Nobody plays harder than Bazemore, who is averaging 7.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench.

"Playing with energy is contagious," he said. "That's why I'm here — bringing energy every night, playing hard when I'm out there. Tonight I got extended minutes (24) and made the most of it. I played as hard as I could for as long as I could. That has to be my mindset for the rest of the season. I've found something that works."

• Anfernee Simons has been struggling with his offense of late, but on Wednesday the problem was at the defensive end. The second-year guard fouled out for the first time in his NBA career, drawing six fouls in only 13 minutes.

"Last time I fouled out was in high school," said Simons, 20, only a year and a half out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. "Seemed like (the referees) was picking on me."

How many fouls did Simons think he deserved?

"They could have called like two," he said. "A lot of the were nick-nack fouls. They always happen, but they don't want to call 'em. They called them on me tonight. They always get the young guys. Zach (Collins) gets that treatment all the time. This is my first time."

Dressing in the locker next to Simons, Rodney Hood chimed in, "He fouls out all the time in practice."

• Portland entered the game ranked No. 23 in the NBA in defensive rating, and the product didn't look much better against the Kings — at least through three quarters, in which the visitors scored 95 points. They were 10 for 21 from 3-point range in the first half and 1 for 13 in the second half.

"We were able to get some stops in the fourth quarter," Stotts said.

Before the game, the coach said this: "Right now, our defensive numbers are terrible. There are a lot of areas (in which) we can get better."

• The Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers (19-3) invade Moda Center Friday night for what will be every bit of a happening in Rip City.

"It's going to be rocking," Anthony said. "We welcome them. It's not even about them. We're trying to move up and establish ourselves."

The Blazers are 10 games back of the Lakers, but they're now in ninth place in the West, only a game back of No. 8 Phoenix (8-11). With nine of the remaining 12 games in December at home, Portland has a great opportunity to at least move past Minnesota and Phoenix and get to the seventh spot by the end of the month.

"We can't take it for granted," Stotts said. "There aren't any easy ones. It is nice to be home. It doesn't guarantee anything, but it's certainly better than the alternative."

• NOTES: Hood injured his left Achilles tendon and left the game for good in the fourth quarter. "It started bothering me a little before halftime and then got worse in the third quarter," he said. "I think I'll be OK." ...Rookie Nassir Little trimmed his hair from mop-top to near-crewcut on Saturday. "I knew I was going to cut it," Little said. "It's been about a year and a half. My routine is I cut my hair every year or so. It was time. I'll grow it back." ... Lillard was sporting a cut under his right eye, courtesy of an elbow from Kawhi Leonard in a 117-97 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday at Staples Center. ... the Kings might as well not even venture to Moda Center, unless it's for the exercise. They've lost 12 in a row on the road against the Blazers. ... Stotts is a member of the 2020 induction class for the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. He played his final two years of high school at Bloomington North High. Stotts was a 1976 Indiana All-Star and all-state selection, averaging 24.4 points and 13.6 rebounds per game. "I look at it as a lifetime achievement (award)," he said. "I'm pretty proud of it."

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Twitter: @kerryeggers


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