Blazers start final back-to-back with a trip to Minnesota

Blazers start final back-to-back with a trip to Minnesota

The magic number: Four. All the Portland Trail Blazers (38-38) need to do is win four of their final six games and they will clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Portland heads into tonight’s matchup with the Timberwolves (30-45) with a two game lead on the ninth place Denver Nuggets (36-40). Portland won the season series against the Nuggets, meaning Denver needs to finish a full game ahead of the Blazers in order to secure a playoff spot. At this point, the eight seed feels like a near lock for the Blazers.

Portland has come out victorious in its past six games, including a lopsided 130-117 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday. The Blazers controlled the game from the jump, at one point leading the Suns 50-25. Phoenix clawed back and made it a single digit game, but the Blazers quickly answered and stretched it back out to double digits. The final score was a lot closer than the game ever was.

It was a very impressive win for the Blazers. Portland had six players in double figures, led by Damian Lillard with 31. Noah Vonleh chipped in a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Evan Turner scored 18 off of the bench. It was a big test for the Blazers, playing their first game without star center Jusuf Nurkić, and needless to say they passed their first hurdle.

The next test comes in the form of the Karl-Anthony Town led Timberwolves. Minnesota is just 3-7 in its last 10 games, and is coming off of a 117-123 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Saturday. Despite the losing record, this test will be a little harder for Portland. With no Nurkić and a hobbled Meyers Leonard the Blazers may have a hard time guarding Towns. In the two previous games these two have played, both wins for the Blazers, Towns has averaged 13.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. However, both of those contests came against a Blazers team that was largely healthy. It will be interesting to see how the Blazers choose to defend  the Timberwolves attack without their true starting center.

On the bright side the Blazers are 2-0 on the season against Minnesota, last matching up just over a week ago – A 112-110 win for the Blazers. Can the Blazers make it 3-0?

Let’s just hope there isn’t condensation on the court in Minnesota this time around.

We will help set the stage for Saturday’s game with an all-new Rip City Live starting at 3:00pm only on CSN.   

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out The Scoop Pregame Show streaming live on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 6:00pm at Facebook.com/CSNNW.

Quick Links:

As Trail Blazers' only remaining center, Meyers Leonard presented with 'huge' opportunity 

Video: Quick: Leonard's dinner with Nurkić

Video:  Lillard: Staying poised despite distractions

Video: Stotts: Life without Nurkić

Game Details:

Where:  Target Center, Minneapolis MN

Television: CSN, 4:00pm

CSN Programming:  Rip City Live (3:00pm), Talkin' Ball  (Immediately after the Blazers postgame show)

Live streaming: Watch an authenticated stream of the game at CSNNW.com/BlazersStream or on the NBC Sports App! Plus the Scoop Pregame Show streams at 3:00pm at Facebook.com/CSNNW. The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/CSNNW

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

 

Damian Lillard: 'I'm as good as any point guard in this league'

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USATI

Damian Lillard: 'I'm as good as any point guard in this league'

Posted today on ESPN's YouTube channel is a Rachel Nichols sitdown with Damian Lillard. From the YouTube description:
"Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard sits down with Rachel Nichols, saying "I'm as good as any point guard in this league," addressing his return to the NBA All-Star Game, and talking about meeting with team owner Paul Allen to talk about becoming a title contender."

Enjoy: 

 

Damian Lillard represents well in All-Star Game

Damian Lillard represents well in All-Star Game

Damian Lillard got some early run in the 2018 All-Star game, logging nine minutes of playing time for Team Steph in the first half where he put up seven points, grabbed two boards and dished out an assists. Lillard's lone made three pointer in the first half was a deep one from the logo.

In the second half, Lillard turned it up another notch including two more three pointers and a nice fadaway jumper. Lillard was taken out of the game with about six minutes to go and finished with 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting with three rebounds and two assists. His 20 minutes of playing time was a solid contribution and when he exited the game, his 21 points was tied for the game high with LeBron James. Team LeBron made a big come back late in the fourth quarter (when teams actually started playing defense)  and ended up with the 148-145 win. 

For a complete recap on Damian's All-Star journey, be sure to check out The Bridge (live 6pm) and Trail Blazers Outsiders (live 7pm) on Monday night!

 

Maybe Kerr should have let the players coach...

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USATI

Maybe Kerr should have let the players coach...

The Blazers head into the All-Star break with a huge win over the Golden State Warriors at Moda Center! Damian Lillard led the way 44 points as the Blazers came out hot in the 1st quarter and hung on for the win. 

Box Score: Portland 123, Golden State 117

Rapid Reaction:

The curious case of Jusuf Nurkic

The curious case of Jusuf Nurkic

It seems that suddenly Nurkic Fever has turned into Nurkic Flu. And it's spreading like wildfire.

Once the darling of Portland fans, Portland center Jusuf Nurkic has become a Twitter punching bag and a controversial figure. This seems to be sparked by his absence from both the Portland lineup and his recent media availabilities. And of course there is a growing wave of discontent based on Nurkic's recent play, too. His lack of consistency has been maddening and it seems to have finally worn out the patience of fans, coaches and media. Probably even his teammates.

Let's make a few things clear right off the bat. Nurkic is averaging 14 points, 8 rebounds and nearly 2 assists per game. That's not bad and I'm not sure where else the Trail Blazers could find a center who could chalk up those statistics. And oh yes, he's still just 23 years old.

But there is more, of course. He is shooting only .479 from the field this season, pretty terrible for a man who takes most of his shots in the paint. And he's at an incredibly terrible .442 within three feet of the basket -- a career low. The Trail Blazers often take great pains to go to him early in games in an effort to get him off to a good start but he often responds as he did against Utah Sunday -- by missing his first four shots, three of them virtual layups. That's a discouraging situation for Nurkic and his team.

Why is this happening? I don't think anyone knows. My guess is that his coaches are at wit's end trying to unlock the secret to finding the whereabouts of the Nurkic who looked so promising through 20 games last season. After a summer in which he lost weight and came back promising to be tougher and more effective he only rarely reaches the level of play we saw so briefly last season. He appears tentative and contact averse.

He often seems to be taking a casual approach to his game, not finishing easy shots and avoiding contact. There are times when he just doesn't seem to be into the whole thing.

He is listed as "questionable" for tonight's game in Moda Center against the Golden State Warriors and there couldn't be a more fitting description of him right now. He's become questionable on a lot of levels.

But if he's hurt, he's hurt. It's careless to question that. But he does seem to get injured frequently, which has led to many questioning his toughness. I must say, as the guy who was screaming "Nurkic Fever" so frequently last season, I've fallen into that category. He's also appeared pouty, which was his reputation in Denver.

Could nagging injuries be a part of his disappointing season? I have no idea. But I do know this, for a player heading into free agency -- even restricted free agency -- he's not doing himself a lot of good. In a summer when it appears the free-agent money pool will be shallow, next season he may not end up earning anywhere close to what he probably anticipated.

Who is Jusuf Nurkic? Right now, I don't think many people have a clue.

And he's running out of games this season to show us.

Greg Oden making a comeback...

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USA Today Images

Greg Oden making a comeback...

The BIG3 announced today that former Trail Blazer Greg Oden will be participating in the BIG3 Draft Combine.

Oden has agreed to join the BIG3 draft pool with the league getting set to enter its second season this summer.

The BIG3 league is a 3-on-3 pro basketball league that was founded by Ice Cube in January 2017 featuring All-Stars, Hall of Famers and a few World Champions.  The league currently features eight teams who travel from city to city with all eight teams facing off in tournament style play through the summer months.   

CBS Sports reporter Colin Ward-Henninger is reporting that Baron Davis, Metta World Peace, Nate Robinson and Carlos Boozer are among a few other players that have signed up for the 2018 season.

How to stream Blazers vs. Jazz

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USA Today Images

How to stream Blazers vs. Jazz

If you already get NBCS Northwest on your TV at home, but you are not able to be home during a Trail Blazers game, you can now stream the game live at the NBC Sports App.  You can download the NBC Sports App at www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile.  Or, you can stream the game online at our live stream page, NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream.

The Portland Trail Blazers (31-25) are coming off back-to-back wins, with the most recent victory coming against the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, 118-100.  The Blazers are now back home to host the Utah Jazz (27-28) on Sunday night.  

In Friday’s win, it was all about Damian Lillard.  Lillard scored 50 points in just three quarters of play.  He now joins teammate CJ McCollum and Warriors guard Klay Thompson as the only players in NBA history to score 50 points in under 30 minutes of action. Lillard went 16-of-26 from the floor and that included going 8-of-13 from deep.  He also had six assists.

Reaching the 50-point milestone on Friday was the fourth time in Lillard's career.

Moe Harkless got his third consecutive start on Friday and vs. the Kings, he had 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 8-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99! Click to learn more and buy]

Utah is one of the hottest teams right now having won eight straight games, which is currently the longest active winning streak in the league.

The Jazz most recent win was on Friday night; a 106-94 home victory against the Charlotte Hornets. Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell had a team-high 25 points, while veteran Joe Ingles added 23 points, six assists and five rebounds.

For Sunday’s Blazers and Jazz matchup, the Blazers are not reporting any injuries, while the Jazz have listed Ricky Rubio (left hip soreness) as questionable and Thabo Sefolosha (right knee surgery) and Dante Exum (left shoulder surgery) are both out.

Sunday’s contest will be the second of four meetings between Portland and Utah this season.  The Jazz beat the Trail Blazers 112-103 in overtime back on November 1st in Utah. In the loss, Jusuf Nurkic had 19 points and 11 rebounds.

The Blazers are currently riding a nine-game home winning streak.

Our coverage of the Portland and Utah game starts with Rip City Live at 5:00pm on Sunday as Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, Orlando Williams, and our Blazer Insider Jason Quick get you ready for all of the action.

 


Quick Links:

Damian Lillard’s 50-point night brewing since flight home from Detroit

Lillard’s Top Plays in his 50-point performance in Blazers win over Kings

Stotts, Blazers’ newest dilemma: What to do with the resurgent of Mo Harkless?


 

Video:  Dame has dropped a 50 spot

Video:  Dame Dominates: 50 points in 3 quarters… sound familiar?

Video:  To whom much is given, much is expected.

Video:  ICYMI: Damian Lillard went off vs. the Kings  


 

Game Details:

Where:  Moda Center, Portland OR    

Tip-off: 6:00pm

Television: NBCS Northwest

Live NBC Sports Northwest coverage:  Rip City Live (5:00pm) and Talkin' Ball  (Immediately after the Blazers postgame show)

Live streaming of the game: Watch the game on your phone on the NBC Sports App.  Download the  app at http://www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile .  Or check out NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream online.

Live streaming coverage on Facebook: The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. 

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

Stotts, Blazers' newest dilemma: What to do with resurgent Mo Harkless?

Stotts, Blazers' newest dilemma: What to do with resurgent Mo Harkless?

SACRAMENTO – A developing subplot in the Trail Blazers season has been the reemergence of Maurice Harkless over the past week.

In what has largely been a disappointing season for the one-time starting small forward, Harkless has recently flourished while being reinserted into the rotation because of injuries.

Last Sunday, he hit all five three-point attempts in Boston en route to a 19-point, 8-rebound performance. And late in an overtime win against Charlotte on Thursday, he made a key block and a flushed a game-clinching dunk off an offensive rebound. He then scored 15 points Friday at Sacramento, and was a key element in the Blazers putting away the Kings in the fourth quarter.

Coach Terry Stotts, who through the first two months of the season went through a somewhat trying exercise in reaching a nine-man rotation, now has an intriguing decision ahead of him: What to do with Harkless?

“Let’s just talk about tonight,’’ Stotts said Friday when asked about his dilemma.

Harkless started the first 19 games of the season, but drifted into anonymity and eventually onto the bench amid poor shooting and energy-less play. To his credit, he remained ready after his demotion. He was the driving force in a December victory at the Lakers, scoring 22 points, and he was a boost with 19 points in a January home win over San Antonio.

This latest development was spurred first by a toe injury to Shabazz Napier, creating an opening in the Boston game, then a calf injury to Evan Turner, which has pushed Harkless into the starting lineup as Turner missed one game and has been on a minutes restriction the past two games.

Stotts started the season with Harkless in the starting lineup because he liked the defensive versatility he provides while paired with power forward Al-Farouq Aminu. The two long and lanky forwards can switch defensively on pick-and-rolls, and when energized, Harkless has athleticism unique to the Blazers.

Plus, with Harkless in the starting lineup, it allows Turner to assume an offensive role off the bench that is more suited to his strengths. With Turner on the second unit, he can be more of a ball-handler and initiator, and it puts less pressure on him to be a spacer alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

So, what does Stotts do?

On Friday at least, the coach conceded that he will probably extend his rotation from nine to 10, at least for the time being. Most coaches -- particularly late in the season -- like to limit their rotations to nine players in order to give them adequate playing time to establish a rhythm. If Harkless forges a regular spot back in the rotation, it will likely have to come at the expense of Napier, the team's third guard.

 “Moving forward I’m sure (Harkless) will be playing,’’ Stotts said. “Evan with the minutes restriction, you know, kind of makes it a little easier on me. Now, I assume Evan’s minutes will be going up, so they will have to come from somewhere. ‘’

This development almost mirrors how Harkless broke onto the scene in Portland two seasons ago. Lost and out of the rotation in February, he flourished as a spot starter in place of the injured Noah Vonleh and became a key element to the team’s late season push.

Now, Lillard is seeing some of the same things from Harkless.

“We get those sprint backs, those block, the deflections, the finishing in the paint, the offensive rebounds, knocking down 3s … when we get that from Mo we are a completely different team,’’ Lillard said. “I literally get excited when I see him doing those things. That’s why I will be the first guy to tell him: ‘We need you like this all the time. Nobody else on our roster can do what you do, and what you bring to the table.’’’

Harkless on Friday said nothing has changed for him, except the opportunity.

“I think it’s just being back in the rotation,’’ Harkless said. “It’s hard to not know if you are going to play, how much you are going to play, then get thrown out there for six minutes. It’s tough to play like that and be consistent.’’

For the immediate future, at least, it sounds like Stotts will give him another shot. What he does with it might determine the course of the Blazers rotation, and season.

“I will be ready to play, whatever role it is,’’ Harkless said.