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No CJ, no victory for Blazers on strange night at Moda

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TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum couldn't play Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers due to a clerical error before the game that listed him on Portland's inactie roster for the game at Moda Center.After 14 years, FOX is bringing back "The X-Files" this month.

If I didn't know better, I'd have sworn the network shot an episode Wednesday night at Moda Center.

Terry Stotts has coached in the NBA for 24 years, and the Trail Blazers' head man said he has never before seen what happened prior to Portland's game with the Los Angeles Clippers.

I'm in my 26th year covering the league, and I haven't, either.

Before an NBA game, each team must submit a roster sheet listing 13 active players and two ineligible players. Due to a "clerical error" on Wednesday, the Blazers listed Luis Montero as "active" and CJ McCollum as "inactive."

That's a bad thing, since the rookie Montero had played all of 20 minutes all season entering the day and McCollum -- who is healthy -- ranks 14th in the NBA in scoring at 21.0 points per game.

Stotts didn't notice the error until it was inside the 60-minute window to make a change. Thus, McCollum was forced to sit out the Clippers' 109-98 victory.

The onus is on the coach to sign off on a team's roster sheet before it is submitted, and Stotts took the blame as he addressed both the media and his players afterward.

"I signed the paper without really noticing it, but it's my fault for not looking at it," Stotts told the media. "Although we caught the error, (and) we thought we caught it in time, apparently we did not. CJ was ruled inactive, and that was that."

Blazer officials contacted NBA officials before the game to try to gain clearance for McCollum to play, to no avail. One report said the league gave Doc Rivers the option of allowing McCollum to play before tip-off, but the Clippers coach wasn't willing.

McCollum sat on the bench until late in the first quarter, when he retreated to the locker room and returned shortly thereafter in street clothes.

"I was told to change," McCollum told reporters afterward. "When you're inactive, you can't be in (uniform)."

The Blazers (15-23) played a listless first half, falling behind 63-40 at intermission. They rallied in the second half, drawing to within six points twice in the late going. But the hole was too deep from which to climb.

No question McCollum's absence played a role in the defeat.

"CJ is a really important part of the team," Stotts said. "We missed him, just like we missed (Damian Lillard) when 'Dame' was out (with plantar fasciitis).

"I feel bad for CJ. I feel bad for the team that he wasn't a part of the game tonight. We missed everything that he does."

It was such a rare occurrence in the NBA, few associated with the team or the media could recall hearing of it happening before. It was terrible luck and a brutal mistake rolled into one, but nobody can blame the Clippers for asking that the rules be administered. They're in the business of winning games, not making friends.

McCollum reacted calmly as he answered questions from reporters in hushed tones afterward. He chose not to place any blame for the mishap.

"It's unfortunate, but it's over with," he said with a shrug. "Let's move on to the next game. I'm putting it in the past. Nothing you can do about it now."

McCollum's teammates said they didn't find out about it until just before tipoff.

"I didn't know until they called (Allen Crabbe's) name (as a starter)," center Miles Plumlee said.

Lillard had only a little more forewarning.

"When they were about to do starting lineups, I was sitting next to CJ, and he leaned over and told me, 'I might not be able to play tonight,'" Lillard said. "I thought he'd sit out the start of the game and at least he'd eventually get in, but (late in the first quarter) I didn't see him on the bench. Then I assumed they wouldn't let him play tonight."

The Clippers jumped to a lead of 13-4 and held a 31-18 advantage after one quarter. The difference kept building until halftime.

"The first quarter, especially, was a little lackluster," Stotts said. "I don't know if (McCollum's absence) contributed to it or not."

Some of the players denied there was an emotional letdown without the team's second-best player in the lineup.

"I didn't think about it too much," said Ed Davis, who came off the bench for 12 points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes. "We could have used (McCollum's) 20 points, you know what I mean? But things happen in the NBA."

"It surprised us, but once the ball's in play, we know we have to still play basketball," said Plumlee, who scored a season-high 19 points to go with nine rebounds and five assists. "We just didn't play with energy as a group the first half. Having one guy wouldn't have helped that."

Well, sure it would, if it were McCollum.

"We get up this morning and prepare, assuming we're going to have one of our better players on the floor," said Lillard, who collected 20 points, seven rebounds and nine assists but suffered through a dreadful 7-for-25 shooting performance. "Then in the starting lineup, someone else's name gets called, and we gotta go on the fly after that. It's a weird situation, but it happened, and we had to deal with it."

The Clippers were able to send much of the defensive attention they'd prepared for McCollum in the direction of Lillard.

"I knew I would have more responsibility," he said. "Other guys did a great job of stepping up. (Plumlee) had a great game. Guys picked up the slack.

"When (the Clippers) trapped me throughout the game, it made it hard for me. Everybody picked their effort up and played with more energy in the second half. Had we done that in the first half, it probably would have been a different result."

When Stotts pulled a mea culpa in the locker room afterward, the players accepted it.

"Everybody in here knows it was an honest mistake," Lillard said. "He's not going to leave one of our better players out of a big game for us. So he made a mistake. We all do. We have to move on from it."

Easier said than done. It seemed as if there were some kind of paranormal activity out there on the court at Moda Center Wednesday night. How else to explain it? It had to be the X-Files.

NOTES -- Chris Paul scored 21 points and dished out a season-high 19 assists to lead the Clippers (23-13), who won their seventh straight game, the NBA's longest active streak. The Clippers are 6-0 since All-Star power forward Blake Griffin left their lineup with a quad injury. … L.A. shot .506 from the field, including 11 for 23 from 3-point range.… Davis achieved his seventh double-double of the season for the Blazers. … Paul notched his fourth straight game with at least 10 assists. DeAndre Jordan had his 20th double-double and his sixth in a row. … Asked by Clippers media pregame if he is surprised with how good the Blazers' record is so far, Stotts answered, "We've lost a lot of close games. Our positioning could be much better. The way we've competed hasn't surprised me. We have a lot of good players, character guys, young players who will compete every night. I'm disappointed we're not a little bit better in the win-loss department."

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