Dwight Jaynes

Revenge? Nurkic took Jokic completely out of the game Monday

Revenge? Nurkic took Jokic completely out of the game Monday

The talk prior to Monday night's Trail Blazer matchup with Denver was whether it would be a revenge game for Jusuf Nurkic. The Portland center, a former Nugget, insisted it was not.

After watching the way the game played out, I'm certain Nurkic took great pleasure in the outcome of the contest and the way he dominated Denver center Nikola Jokic. But what happened Monday night -- the 99-82 Trail Blazer win -- had a lot more to do with Nurkic's knowledge of Jokic from all those practice sessions when they were teammates, than it did with simple revenge.

Nurkic manhandled Jokic. And it seemed as if he knew exactly what he was doing -- just as he did last season in their meeting. And what he was doing was being physical with his former teammate. He made it a rough night, which Jokic didn't seem to like. Jokic went 2-for-9 from the field and scored six points on the same day he was named the Western Conference's player of the week. Jokic finished the game lurking around the three-point line, looking like a man who had lost his way.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Nurkic's dominance was the story of the night. The Nuggets' best player and a rising star in the NBA was taken completely out of the game. That was enough for not many to notice that Nurkic finished with a whopping seven of his team's 22 turnovers. I have no idea why Portland is suddenly experiencing an uptick in turnovers. It's certainly not because the team is forcing the ball upcourt on fastbreaks -- since the Blazers are at the bottom of the league in that department.

Since Coach Terry Stotts has been here, there's never been much attention paid to fastbreaks, partly, I'm sure, to keep the turnovers down. Bu,t if  you're going to turn the ball over anyway, you may as well try to run a little more. I would think. Those easy baskets off the break can perk a team up and can wake up an offense.

But it wasn't an issue Monday. Nurkic took care of that.

 

 

Just a few reasons why the Trail Blazers lost to the Brooklyn Nets

Just a few reasons why the Trail Blazers lost to the Brooklyn Nets

Throughout the game Friday night, even while the Trail Blazers were suffering through a rough third quarter, my feeling was that Portland still had control of the game. No matter how poorly the Trail Blazers played, I couldn't envision them actually losing on their home floor to the Brooklyn Nets.

But they did.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

How does such a thing happen? Let me count the ways:

  • The most obvious thing first: Jusuf Nurkic didn't play during the final 11 minutes of the game. The Nets went with a small lineup so Portland obliged them by going small, too. In other words, the Nets dictated Portland's lineup throughout the fourth quarter. Nurkic was having a big game and that's the way the Nets lose -- by allowing the other team's big man to score virtually at will. This madness has got to stop. The league's fascination with "going small" is at epidemic proportions and it's fine if you have Draymond Green to defend small men or even Al-Farouq Aminu. But Aminu is out injured -- again -- and not available. And Green doesn't play for Portland. Yet, there the Blazers are, struggling on offense with less than their best lineup on the floor down the stretch of the game. Portland doesn't -- even on a platoon basis in the final minute -- turn the tables and make a little man try to defend Nurkic.
  • All of this happens, of course, because the Trail Blazers are so predictable on defense that teams just go to a high pick-and-roll late in games and wait for Portland;s inevitable switch on the pick. It happens every time and the opposing offense can get that big-on-small matchup whenever it wants. Heck, Portland even switches when there is no pick -- just players changing places. The Nets wanted it virtually every time down the court late in the game, leaving poor Davis, the lone big, to try to keep up with Russell. What would be wrong with changing coverages once in a while? Why not blitz the pick and roll and take the ball out of Russell's hands? I have no idea. But if you're going to just switch that pick-and-roll every time, you might as well leave Nurkic in the game because he'd be just as ineffective as Davis at guarding Russell.
  • Portland's starting guards were just 13-for-32 from the field. The Blazers, as a team, were only 7-for-20 from three-point range. That won't cut it. This team's ball and player movement continues to hit lulls during games. If that cannot be corrected, it's going to be a long season. The last thing I thought we'd be worried about this season with this team is the offense.
  • I'm getting a bit tired of mentioning this, but the Trail Blazers are last in the NBA in fast-break points per game. The only real reason for this to happen is that this team's coaching staff doesn't want it to run. Fast breaks don't happen by accident -- they have to be practiced. Obviously, a decision has been made that the risk (turnovers and rushed shots) is not worth the reward (easy, uncontested baskets). I just don't see how you survive in the NBA without at least an average number of fast breaks. Portland averages 4.6 points per game off the break. Golden State gets 27.2.

The Trail Blazers are better than a 6-6 team, given the schedule they've played so far. I expected much more than this and I think everyone connected with the team did, too

Murphy: Group pursuing MLB for Portland "doing it the right way"

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Murphy: Group pursuing MLB for Portland "doing it the right way"

Dale Murphy pointed to a group of people who represented the Seattle Mariners.

"You know what you need?" he asked. "You don't have a rival. Who's your rival? You don't have one. It should be Portland."

Murphy, a special guest speaker at Thursday night's Friends of Baseball Gala at the Portland Art Museum, went on to praise the group of people working behind the scenes trying to bring a major-league baseball franchise to Portland. Earlier, Murphy shared with me that he'd met with a representative of that group and was filled in on what's happening with the baseball effort.

"Being from here, when people hear the possibility of baseball, they want to know who's involved and you want it to be done the right way," said Murphy, a star at Portland's Wilson High School who now lives in Utah. "I had a great opportunity to meet with Mike Barrett and the one thing I would say is that you should have no concerns about the group that is handling this. These are good people who care about the city of Portland. That's what you want.

"I have the utmost confidence in the group that is pursuing this. They are doing it the right way and it's going to be something that is going to make this city proud. I have a lot of confidence in them. There is so much work to be done and they are doing things the right way. Sometimes people want publicity and adulation but this group is doing it right -- getting the work done and taking care of the things that need to be taken care of. That's what this group has done.

"I want someone who is going to understand Portland and how much we love the city. We want things done the right way and that's what they're doing."

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Murphy's parents still live in Portland, he visits frequently and is visibly excited about an MLB franchise in his home town.

"I just opened a restaurant in Atlanta and I was thinking, 'Man, that would be fun to have a Murph's right by the ballpark.' If something happens here I will be in touch with this group to talk about a lot of possibilities. I would absolutely like to be involved in it. It was such a great opportunity to learn more about what they're doing and be a part of the cheering section. Baseball can mean so much to this area.

"So much has changed in the landscape of baseball franchises. The way they're building stadiums, for instance. The way they built SunTrust Park in Atlanta... with the mixed-use development, a smaller ballpark -- the ballparks become such a part of the community. These people doing this understand Portland and what a special place it is, on so many levels. This group is something the people of Portland can be proud of and get behind."

Murphy is planning on sticking around to watch one of his sons play for Weber State Saturday against Portland State. It's been an eventful week for him, too. Earlier this week he learned that he was on the list of 10 candidates to be reconsidered for baseball's Hall of Fame.

Murphy had a distinguished big-league career and was considered among the best players of his era. He played 18 seasons with the Braves, Phillies and Rockies and won back-to-back NL MVP awards in 1982 and 1983. He was also a seven-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove Award winner and four-time Silver Slugger Award. Murphy finished his career with a .265 average, 398 home runs and 1,266 RBIs. He led all Major League outfielders during the 1980s in home runs and RBIs. He also ranked second among outfielders in hits and extra-base hits.

TBT: The night Ric Flair told Vince that he'd bought half of WWF

TBT: The night Ric Flair told Vince that he'd bought half of WWF

Today, a special throwback Thursday treat, in honor of that great 30-for-30 special this week on pro wrestling's Ric Flair. Whatever you think of pro wrestling, Flair is one of the most dynamic entertainers you will ever see and was terrific in the ring.

I met him only once, when he was defending his championship in Portland. But he's one of those people who walks into a room and instantly draws your attention. Charisma? Yes, times 10.

[NBC Sports Gold "Blazers Pass" 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 - click to learn more and buy]

This video is from many years ago, the night Flair showed up on Monday Night Raw to inform the beautifully overacting Vince McMahon that he'd bought 50 percent of his company. Enjoy the commentary of Jerry Lawler and the great Jim Ross with appearances by "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Kurt Angle.

It's a fun ride back to the days when Flair was at his best behind a mic.

That Nurkic fever is turning into Nurkic enigma

That Nurkic fever is turning into Nurkic enigma

When looking back at the Trail Blazers' 98-97 loss to Memphis Tuesday night in Moda Center, it would be easy to take a look at the last shot by CJ McCollum. Or two or three empty possessions by Portland inside the final two minutes. You can place blame there, if you wish.

But for me, the enigma that is Jusuf Nurkic merits some blame, too.

This guy is a puzzle, for sure. Just when you think he is back (25 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and 11-for-14 shooting Sunday vs. Oklahoma City) to the level of last season's spectacular play, he checks in with a bewildering 3-for-9, six-point performance punctuated by foul trouble and just 20 minutes on the court. He didn't play during the final 3:34 of the game -- not because of foul trouble, though. I think Terry Stotts simply made the only move he could make -- removing Nurkic because he was ineffective and looking every bit like a player without confidence in what he was trying to do.

[NBC Sports Gold "Blazers Pass" 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 - click to learn more and buy]

Now remember, I'm the guy who originally got the "Nurkic Fever" ball rolling. I thought last season he played like the franchise center the Trail Blazers have been looking for during the last couple of decades. He played hard, played with passion and skill. I thought he was the answer.

But this season he's been more about questions than answers. The late, great original player personnel guru for the Trail Blazers, Stu Inman, used to shake his head about certain players and simply ask, "Who is he?" And that's the real question about Nurkic. Who, exactly, is he?

Is he last season's sensation or this season's disappointment? Can he be depended on? Can he be consistent? He's already earning a reputation as a flopper, to the point where he may not be able to get fouls called even when he really is fouled. He's had trouble finishing inside and hasn't yet justified those three-pointers he wants to shoot. He's committing some very foolish fouls and some careless turnovers. Tuesday night was truly a night when it appeared he just couldn't get out of his own way.

That's not the mark of a franchise player. Or even just a solid contributor. You have to wonder if we're now seeing some of the things the Denver Nuggets saw in him that made him available for Mason Plumlee.

But it's early in the year and he's probably never gone into a season with this much pressure to perform. It's not fair to count him out yet, particularly when you catch him on one of his good nights. He can still be electric when things are going well. He can still lift his team and the home crowd. The talent is there, for sure.

But it's up to him to bring it every night. Or at least be able to stay on the court.

 

 

Nurkic "sold" Anthony's elbow to the face like a pro wrestler and it worked

Nurkic "sold" Anthony's elbow to the face like a pro wrestler and it worked

All in all, THAT game Sunday night was how I expected the Portland Trail Blazers to look this season.

The Blazers were clicking on both ends of the court, shooting 50 percent from the field for the first time this season and defending key Oklahoma City players well in their 103-99 win in Moda Center. Russell Westbrook went 10 for 25 from the floor, 3 for 10 from three-point range and just 2 for 7 from the foul line in a wacky performance -- it featured five straight free-throw misses by him -- unlike his usual MVP-quality show. The Blazers won the board battle 43-32 and held the Thunder to 44.9 percent shooting.

[NBC Sports Gold "Blazers Pass" 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 - click to learn more and buy]

All in all, it was a fine game, even though the home team walked a tightrope late in the final minutes, very nearly spoiling a nice effort with shaky ball handling.

Damian Lillard played his best game of the season with 36 points and 13 assists and was stellar down the stretch.

Jusuf Nurkic joined the party, too -- hitting 11 of 15 shots and scoring 25 to go with eight rebounds and two blocks.

And really, it makes a whole lot of difference when Nurkic is on his game. He's a difference maker at both ends of the court and the way he "sold" an elbow to his face from Carmelo Anthony in the third quarter was worthy of the best the WWE has to offer -- and it led to Anthony's ejection. Nurkic went down as if he was hit by a sledge hammer -- and maybe it felt that way.

Nurkic was motionless on the floor for about a minute after Anthony's right elbow caught his face on the way up for a shot that was originally ruled a foul on Nurkic and a potential three-point play for Anthony. But with Nurkic laid out on the floor, officials looked at replays and changed the call to a flagrant 2 on Anthony, who was ejected. It may have altered the outcome of the game.

Let me say I didn't think it was a Flagrant 2 foul and nobody deserves to be ejected for such a play. Anthony was in the act of shooting and trying to draw a foul in the process. Nurkic got a little too close for his own good and got smacked -- although how hard was open to debate. It may have been a brutal shot or a love tap, it was impossible to tell from the replays -- but Nurkic sold it like Ric Flair taking an elbow from Hulk Hogan and the officials bought into it.

Anyone who has played a lot of basketball will tell you that when you go up to block somebody's shot, you take a chance of getting caught with an elbow or arm to the face. It's just what happens. And when you do take that hit, it can often be called a foul on you. But whatever. This one wasn't.

And the Blazers got the benefit. I must say, it was a physical game -- as it always is when Portland hooks up with OKC.

And we got a glimpse of the potential of this Portland team against a group that is expected to be one of the best in the NBA.

A fun game punctuated by some controversy is a wonderful thing.

Tonight's Talkin' Ball Podcast:

Lonzo Ball's jump shot seems to prove his dad isn't the "best coach ever"

Lonzo Ball's jump shot seems to prove his dad isn't the "best coach ever"

After watching Lonzo Ball in summer league I was interested to see him in person again last week.

But he was pretty much a no-show against the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard outscored him 32-0, which you know by know. But I'm not here to tear him apart. I think he's going to be a very good NBA player, one who pushes the pace and sees the court. He;s unselfish and is willing to take responsibility for his actions on the court.

But oh my, that jump shot. It appears nobody on the Lakers' staff has touched it since the summer and at some point, I think he's going to have to put in some work on it. There have been plenty of successful NBA players with funky shooting mechanics, but I cannot see how this kid will ever reach his potential with a shot that takes so long to load and is so far from linear that it's always going to be very fragile. You can read Charles Barkley's take on the shot here, with video, and Chuck is correct.

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What amazes me about the way the kid shoots, though, is that he's coming out of the basketball factory of his father, LaVar, the self-proclaimed "best coach ever." This man actually does seem to believe that he has the cheat code to creating basketball players. But when your son hits the NBA with a shot that broken, it certainly reflects on the "coach" who has approved those mechanics -- and is still approving them:

"Oh, ain't nobody tinkering with his shot. He's going to shoot the same way, comfortable, like I said, who cares about his shot," he said.

Lonzo will eventually settle in at a decent percentage if he continues to shoot that way. The good NBA players put in so much work that improvement is inevitable. But until he lines that shot up better, he's not going to ever reach his potential as a shooter or a player. At some point, somebody on the Laker staff is going to have to tell the old man to go sit on the sidelines and shut up while they do some renovation on that jumper.

But do you think that will happen?

 

 

Blazer guards' 11 turnovers lead to overtime loss at Utah

Blazer guards' 11 turnovers lead to overtime loss at Utah

Another close game, another lost opportunity.

The Trail Blazers had a road win in their hands Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, but fumbled it away and lost in overtime. As I've said many times, when you lose a close game, you can always point to many reasons for the defeat. I mean, Portland had the ball for the last shot in regulation with the score tied and didn't score. On the road, you better take advantage of that last shot. Especially when you send the other team to the foul line a dozen times, miss all five of your three-point attempts and allow 75 percent shooting during the overtime.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy.]

This was an unusual night because the two players who normally carry the Trail Blazers let them down. Damian Lillard (who had a nightmarish night from three-point range) and CJ McCollum (who had a horrendous night with the ball) were a combined 18 for 47 from the field, including a 6-for-23 effort from three-point range. On top of that, they combined for 11 of their team's 17 turnovers. Ouch.

The starting Trail Blazer guards are the mainstays -- the foundation of this team. They are responsible for a lot of wins and on the rare occasions when they don't play well, they must take responsibility for the losses, too. I don't expect that to happen very often, but it did Wednesday against the Utah Jazz.

 

Dodgers have the home field for Game 7 -- for the right reason?

Dodgers have the home field for Game 7 -- for the right reason?

One game for a championship. The World Series is on the line tonight in Dodger Stadium to climax one of the most entertaining Series in recent years.

Los Angeles owns the home-field advantage because it won 104 games this season. The Astros won 101. Of course the teams played in different leagues and thus played much different schedules. Houston is in the American League, which has been considered the superior league for the past several seasons. This is the first season baseball has decided its home field based on best record -- a practice that has become common in just all the other leagues. But this just isn't right.

I've never liked it. In baseball, basketball and football these teams don't play the same schedules. It just seems to me very unfair to go by record when one team may have played a much easier schedule than the other. For a while, baseball experimented with the giving the home field to the league that won the All-Star Game. But nobody seemed to like that method and instead of going back to the practice of simply alternating the home field from year to year, baseball went the way of everybody else and decided it on best record.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Home field in baseball is not the factor it is in basketball, where home-crowd pressure on officials is a real factor in deciding outcomes. In baseball, most of the advantage comes from the fact that the home team gets to bat last -- which is an obvious edge. Going into the ninth inning and knowing how many runs you need to win the game really helps.

Certainly SOMETHING has to decide the home field and for me alternating it is probably the fairest thing. At least each league can plan on getting the edge every other year.

Who will win this season? There is no question the Dodgers have a decided advantage in the bullpens, which is becoming a very big deal in the postseason. But this has been an unpredictable World Series, full of dramatic and sometimes surprising twists and turns. Which makes me think that somehow the Astros will figure out a way to win it.

On the Dodgers' home field.

Trail Blazers just not getting enough open shots

Trail Blazers just not getting enough open shots

I don't want to dwell on this too long. Monday night's Trail Blazer loss to the Toronto Raptors came down to one horrendous second quarter, the worst second quarter in the history of the franchise.

So let's not go too crazy with worry. CJ McCollum summed it up best to our Jason Quick after the game:

“We have to do a better job of movement – not just ball movement, but player movement,’’ McCollum said. “A lot of times, we are standing there watching each other.’’

No question. This season the Trail Blazers have gotten away from the ball and player movement that has been so good to them during the Terry Stotts Era. At their best, the Blazers have gotten wide-open shots because of the great flow to their offense. That's not happening so much this season and the result has been many more contested shots than in past seasons.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

During that second quarter, Portland missed some shots it usually makes but had some turnover trouble and the hustling Raptor defense made some tough shots even more difficult than usual.

Movement -- of the ball and the bodies -- will cure most of the offensive problems. It shouldn't be that difficult to fix. And it wouldn't hurt to mix in a few fast-break points. I'd even be tempted to bring former Portland guard Andre Miller into town to tutor Portland's guards on hitting ahead on the break. Andre was one of the best we've seen here in recent seasons and it's a weakness of the current guard corps. They have to work on their vision up the court and their passes to open teammates in order to facilitate a few much-needed, easy, open baskets.

Fast breaks don't happen because a coach is on the sidelines waving his arms at his players like a traffic cop, imploring them to push the ball up court. They happen because of time spent in practice working on them.

But the good thing is, this is the NBA and the next game is always just a day or two away. The mission for the Trail Blazers Wednesday night in Utah is to put together four good quarters.