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Trail Blazers Open 2017-18 Campaign Wednesday In Phoenix

by Cody Sharrett

The long wait is over. The Portland Trail Blazers (0-0) open the 2017-18 campaign Wednesday night in the desert as they tip-off a three-game road trip versus the Phoenix Suns (0-0) to begin the season. 

Beginning his sixth season as a Blazer, point guard Damian Lillard leads his team with career averages of 22.4 points and 6.2 assists per game, accentuated by a career-high 27 points per night last season. After coming to Portland from Denver in the middle of 2016-17, Bosnian center Jusuf Nurkić anchors the paint for the Trail Blazers, and looks to build of averages of 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists over 20 games in Portland last year. The Blazers enter regular season off a 5-1 preseason that saw the team carry over the improved defense it saw with Nurkić last season.

“I think we came in on the same page as far as taking it to the next level on the defensive end,” Lillard said of the team’s improved defense .”Everybody came back committed to it and you could tell from the first day. There was more excitement behind it, more attention to detail. The thing that makes me really confident about it is that we took it every day from camp into the preseason."

The Blazers, however, will be without second-leading scorer CJ McCollum for Wednesday’s season opener. McCollum was suspended one game by the NBA for leaving the bench during an altercation in last week’s preseason matchup with Phoenix. Evan Turner and Pat Connaughton are set to share minutes in McCollum’s absence versus the Suns. The fourth-year guard out of Lehigh is set to return to the lineup Friday at Indiana. 

“Twenty-three points a game,” Lillard said of the impact of McCollum’s suspension. “Obviously our level of focus has to be up. I’m sure that’s gonna give Phoenix some energy, knowing we’re a man down, and one of our main guys who has an impact on every game we play. We’ve gotta come together and the effort has to be collective. 

“It’s one game, we’ve gotta go out there and get it done for [McCollum].”

For Phoenix, third-year guard Devin Booker, who averaged 22.1 points per game last season, leads the Suns. Booker is joined in the backcourt by Eric Bledsoe, who is coming off a career-high average of 21.1 points a season ago. Rookie Josh Jackson, the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, provides hope in the Phoenix frontcourt entering the season. 

Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd are set to call Wednesday’s action on NBC Sports Northwest with Brooke Olzendam reporting from courtside. Pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 pm PT.