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Trail Blazers say sitting out is a luxury they can't afford out West

McCollum: 'I don't think we can afford to 'Kawhi' it'

The Trail Blazers are coming off a run to the Western Conference finals, and they envision no rest for the weary.

In an interview with The Oregonian, Portland’s high-octane backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum acknowledged they’ve been preparing with little ‘load management’ in mind.

“We’re not some big super team,” Lillard said. “So I don’t think we have the luxury to sit out, especially with how competitive the West is going to be.

The Toronto Raptors’ successful deployment of Kawhi Leonard throughout their championship run — no consecutive games in back-to-backs, and just 60 total prior to a monster postseason — is oft-cited as the pinnacle of what’s been a developing league-wide trend. And note both Lillard and McCollum opted out of participating in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, which took place Aug. 31 – Sept. 15 in China.

They surely did so with an eye on Leonard’s cross-conference offseason journey, one that’s only complicated the equation for coaches and players looking to advance to that ever-elusive ‘Larry O-B’.

Added McCollum: “The race in the Western Conference is extremely tight. I don’t know if we can afford to Kawhi it, so to speak. You’ll Kawhi your way out of the playoffs.”

Last season, just six games separated the West’s No. 2 seed from No. 8, and every team to make the playoffs won at least 48 games. While the No. 6 Thunder lost Paul George and Russell Westbrook, the Kings, Lakers and Pelicans all stand to improve, perhaps significantly. Every game will be needed, even as something must be left for the postseason. Who balances best might well decide the victor.