Portland Trail Blazers star guard CJ McCollum has been playing with an L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) in his lower back since Thursday, according to a report from Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest.
McCollum did not appear to be himself during Portland's crucial 134-131 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, shooting just 2-of-14 from the field and finishing with eight points.
It isn't a surprise McCollum struggled given the injury. But Damian Lillard had him covered, scoring 61 points and adding eight assists and five rebounds to hold off the Mavs while Carmelo Anthony chipped in with 26 points, eight rebounds and two steals.
McCollum did sink two important free throws with just 3.9 seconds remaining to give Portland a three-point lead. It was otherwise a tough night for the veteran guard.
The victory was huge for the Blazers (34-39), however, moving them into the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference standings. They are currently a half-game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies (33-39), Phoenix Suns (33-39) and San Antonio Spurs (32-38).
The battle to get into the Western Conference playoffs couldn't be tighter.
But if McCollum's back issues continue to hamper him, Portland will have bigger concerns. Getting into a play-in series between the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds is one thing. Winning it, and making noise against the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the postseason's opening round, is quite another.
Unless Lillard plans on averaging 60 points per game, it's hard to imagine the Trail Blazers stealing a series from LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers without a healthy McCollum. The status of his back has become an important storyline for both the Blazers and the Western Conference playoff picture as a whole.