PORTLAND, Ore. — For the first time in his career, CJ McCollum knows what the opposing locker room inside the Moda Center looks like.
McCollum was a member of the Portland Trail Blazers for the first 8½ seasons he was in the NBA. After being dealt at the deadline, he’s now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans and with his new team in town to face his old one, things were a little different Wednesday morning.
“It’s weird, man,” McCollum said of being in Portland as a visitor. “Some of the setting in which you operate is just unique. … It’s a part of the game. I’m looking forward to getting to the game tonight.”
McCollum said he was able to sleep in his own bed last night. Although his wife, Elise, and his young son were in New Orleans last week, it was the first time he was able to see his dog since the trade.
It was all a touch of home, even though he’s about to try and defeat his former squad. And that squad will look a little different with former teammates like Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic out for the game.
“Yeah, not as fun,” McCollum said about not having to face those guys. “Won’t be as fun. They’ll be back eventually though.”
Since the trade, McCollum has thrived in his role as lead guard with the Pelicans. In 19 games, McCollum is averaging 25.9 points, 6.5 assists and 4.9 rebounds — all of which would be career highs if they were over the course of the season.
McCollum said the situation in New Orleans is “exactly how I thought it would be.”
“It was a team I kind of zeroed in on and they obviously zeroed in on me,” McCollum said. “I knew what I signed up for and what I was going to be asked to do, and I’m doing it. They held up their end of the bargain as well. I’m happy to be in this situation.”
McCollum said he’s looking at Wednesday’s game as the “final closure” for the this chapter. He said while he had some closure when he first left after talking with teammates, tonight will help.
“I had conversations and was able to talk to some of my teammates and obviously I still talk to them to this day,” McCollum said. “I talked with the staff. It’ll be good to see Chauncey, talk about our teams. Talk about our football teams. Just kind of catch up and get back to business. Get the win and get outta here.
“This is the final step. You know this is going to happen at some point. But it’s good that it’s happy emotions opposed to the opposite. I like to call it a happy breakup. One where you’re not bitter at your ex. “
The game comes at an important time for New Orleans, which is battling with the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers in the play-in race in the West.
The Pelicans are one game up on both teams and in ninth place. New Orleans has the eighth-easiest schedule over the last seven games, including two against fading Portland and one against the Lakers on Friday in Los Angeles.
The Lakers have the third-hardest schedule and the Spurs have the fifth-hardest schedule over their last seven games.