C.J. McCollum drops 43 points in Blazers win (VIDEO)

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When the Minnesota Timberwolves jumped out to a 12-point lead over Portland at halftime, the struggling Trail Blazers looked to be on their way to yet another loss.

Turns out C.J. McCollum had the young Wolves right where he wanted them.

McCollum scored a career-high 43 points to carry the Trail Blazers to a 95-89 victory Sunday night.

Mason Plumlee had 18 points and eight rebounds, and Evan Turner added 11 points for the Blazers. They were without star point guard Damian Lillard for the fourth straight game.

McCollum made 16 of 25 shots, including a 30-foot 3-pointer with just over 2:30 to play to put the game out of reach.

“We were being soft as a team and I think it showed in our performance,” McCollum said. “We knew that we needed to come out and compete.”

Andrew Wiggins scored 24 points for the Timberwolves. But Karl-Anthony Towns had just 11 points on 3-for-15 shooting and missed all six of his 3-pointers. Zach LaVine also was quiet with 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting and the Wolves fell to 9-11 in games in which they lead by double digits.

“I shot good shots, put them up with the same form and they just weren’t going in,” Towns said. “I tried to do other things, try to make free throws when you got them, get rebounds, make assists. I don’t know. I shot good shots, they just didn’t fall.”

Portland had lost seven of its last eight and was floundering with its star on the bench with ankle problems.

Lillard was listed as doubtful for the game with that sprained left ankle. He worked out hard before the game and showed no noticeable limp, but the Blazers started McCollum at point guard again with two days off before their next scheduled game. McCollum, who was averaging 26 points per game with Lillard out, scored 13 points in a ragged first quarter and put up 16 in a 32-15 third quarter that helped the Blazers turn a 14-point deficit into a five-point lead going into the fourth.

“Without Damian, that’s 28 points and a lot of defensive attention,” McCollum said. “Seven assists, six rebounds, so a lot more energy has to be utilized on my end. I have to try to keep guys involved and take over as a decision maker.”

The Wolves came back to tie it with 7:23 to play, but Shabazz Napier hit a big 3, Turner hit a soft jumper and Allen Crabbe knocked down another 3 to put the Blazers in front for good.

Before the game, Portland coach Terry Stotts said it was important for his players not to try to do too much with Lillard out.

“I just said there might be a guy who scores 10 more than you expect,” Stotts said. “He scored 20 more than I expected.”

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Crabbe had 10 points and a career-high eight rebounds. … McCollum topped 30 for the seventh time this season. His previous career high was 37. … Napier scored three points, the only bench player besides Turner to score.

Timberwolves: PG Ricky Rubio had a rough night, going 0 for 5 from the field and getting torched by McCollum on defense. He did not play in the fourth quarter. … Minnesota entered the game 10th in the NBA in free throw shooting, but missed six of them on Sunday night. … Towns did have 13 rebounds and six assists, all in the first quarter.

MISSING MOTIEJUNAS

The Timberwolves had a workout scheduled with free agent forward Donatas Motiejunas as they considered adding him to help them bolster a bench that has struggled mightily this season. After working out with New Orleans, Motiejunas took a flight to Minneapolis on Sunday. But by the time he got off the plane, he had an offer from the Pelicans on the table and canceled his workout with the Timberwolves.

“We never got a chance to sit down with him,” coach Tom Thibodeau said.

 

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.