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Pelicans shootaround update: CJ McCollum’s return to Portland features new-look Trail Blazers

It’s accurate to say that CJ McCollum will face his former franchise, Portland, for the first time as an opposing player Wednesday. It’s less true that the shooting guard will be competing against many familiar former teammates.

Of the eight Portland players who appeared in Wednesday’s overtime loss to Oklahoma City, only three of them were on the Trail Blazers’ roster with McCollum when the 2021-22 season began (C.J. Elleby, Ben McLemore, Keljin Blevins). From their lineup back in October, several notable names have moved on, including Robert Covington (Clippers), Norman Powell (Clippers) and the three players dealt to the Pelicans.

Other notes:

New Orleans is 5-1 in the last six games Brandon Ingram has played, as well as 26-25 overall this season. Head coach Willie Green on Ingram’s fourth-quarter impact Sunday vs. the Lakers, in Ingram’s first game since March 6: “He literally took over the game down the stretch, and that’s what he’s capable of doing. We’ve just got to keep doing it as a team, and the wins are coming. It’s good to see.”

PORTLAND SCOUTING REPORT

Offensive efficiency rank: 25 (108.2)

Defensive efficiency rank: 30 (116.0)

Net rating: 27 (-7.8)

Pace: 13 (98.87)

Streak: Lost 4

Go-to guy: Portland’s attack has a major by-committee feel to it. Consider that over the past two weeks, its leading scorers have nearly identical numbers, with center Drew Eubanks (17.0 ppg) leading the way, followed by veteran guard Ben McLemore (16.5) and point guard Brandon Williams (15.0). Only five players have appeared in all of the past eight games.

On the rise: LSU product Trendon Watford recently joined Portland’s lengthy list of sidelined players, but in his past seven appearances, the rookie has averaged 13.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He’s started 10 games, highlighted by a 27-point night in a win over Washington on March 12.

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

NEW ORLEANS (32-43, 9TH IN WEST)

Sunday win vs. LA Lakers

CJ McCollum, Herbert Jones, Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes, Jonas Valanciunas

Notes: This group is 5-2. Prior to Ingram being sidelined by a hamstring injury in early March, this group was leading New Orleans to some of its best basketball of the season. … A win Wednesday over Portland would guarantee that the Pelicans finish ahead of the Trail Blazers in the standings, partly because it would lock up the tiebreaker. … To remain in ninth place through Wednesday, New Orleans must win or have San Antonio lose vs. Memphis (7:30 p.m. tip-off in Texas).

PORTLAND (27-48, 12TH IN WEST)

Monday loss vs. Oklahoma City

Brandon Williams, Keon Johnson, CJ Elleby, Elijah Hughes, Drew Eubanks

Notes: This group is 0-1. It was Portland’s 31st different starting lineup of this season. By comparison, in a 2020-21 season that was much more impacted by health and safety protocols (and was only 72 games), the Trail Blazers used just 13 starting lineups. … The Trail Blazers are still mathematically alive in the play-in race, but need to win the majority of their upcoming games to remain that way. They travel to No. 10 San Antonio next for a weekend “baseball series” Friday and Sunday.

FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME

HOMECOMINGS

McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell are making their return to Portland after being traded to New Orleans last month. Despite spending the first few months of this season in Oregon, they may not recognize some of the players in red and black uniforms.

KNOW PERSONNEL

New Orleans needs to familiarize itself with a handful of brand-new Blazers who have not yet developed thick pro resumes, but have tried to keep Portland competitive and pulled off recent wins at Detroit and vs. Washington.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

After missing 10 straight games, Ingram was excellent in his return vs. the Lakers (26 points in 26 minutes). With a rotation lacking much time on the court together, Portland faces a major defensive challenge in Ingram and the Pelicans.