It wasn't a Trail Blazer win, but it was a chance to see the Nurkic Effect

It wasn't a Trail Blazer win, but it was a chance to see the Nurkic Effect

For quite a while Saturday night during the interminable telethon that NBA playoff games have become, it appeared that the Trail Blazers had found the right formula to beat the Golden State Warriors.

Jusuf Nurkic was back, if but a shell of his usual self. The Trail Blazers seem to take inspiration from his return to the lineup, even though he was dragging a broken leg up and down the court. But it wasn't just the inspiration. Nurkic got his team off to a great start with just his presence. The Portland pick-and-roll offense was suddenly potent again, with Nurkic planting a brickwall of a pick and then rolling down the lane toward the basket. There was either an open three or a pass to Nurkic -- and he'd find the open man with his usual knack for such things.

It was nice while it lasted -- he had 11 rebounds and four assists -- and the Nurkic Effect lasted much longer than the 16 and a half minutes he spent on the court. There was an obvious lift. The Blazers played gallantly until the inevitable Warrior surge, about midway through the third quarter. At that point, the Blazers were hanging on for dear life -- trying to get an open shot for Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum against a defense that was willing to allow open shots for anyone but them.

Moda Center was loud and proud most of the night but the tale of this playoff series was never a mystery. The Blazers lost for the third time and there's a fourth one headed their way Monday night. This Golden State team is too much for them and probably too much for anyone else in the league.

But for just under 17 Nurkic minutes Saturday night there was a glimpse of the future, a snapshot of things to come.

Nurkic makes this team better. Much better, even in the condition he was Saturday.

He confessed to a lot of pain after the game and I think it would be unwise to put him through all of that again Monday. I don't think it was a mistake to play him in this game because I trust Portland's medical staff to know what's best for him and the franchise. He got a taste of the playoffs and his teammates found a rallying point. He was pretty much the last card the Blazers had left to play in the series.

Throughout the last few weeks none of us knew exactly what kind of shape he was in. There was hope that when he came back he would be near 100 percent. As it turned out, he was nowhere close ("I'm not the same guy," he said). And for just 15 or 16 minutes a game, I don't think it's worth doing it again. He tried it and it was what it was -- a fun time for us if not for him. He showed the kind of impact he can have when he's right and tried his best to help his squad win one game.

The mission of getting him on the floor was accomplished, if not the part about winning a game. But at this point, it's all about being healthy for next season.

And all about the dreams of what a franchise center can do for this team.

Welcome Back CJ! Blazers roll to 2-0

usatsi_10357736.jpg

Welcome Back CJ! Blazers roll to 2-0

Early on in this young season the Trail Blazers defense looks much improved and is a big reason they are 2-0 following a 114-96 win over the Indiana Pacers on Friday. Portland scored 62 points in the first half, and defensively was giving the Pacers fits. The second half started sloppy, but then CJ caught fire, scoring the final 12 points of the third quarter. Once The Closers checked in, it was all over. 


Final Score: Portland 114 - Pacer 96

Trail Blazers' defense to get biggest test to date tonight against Pacers

Trail Blazers' defense to get biggest test to date tonight against Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS – So is this Trail Blazers’ defense for real, or what?

Portland on Friday night will get its best answer to date whether its defense is indeed new-and-improved when it plays at Indiana, which is coming off a 140-131 win over Brooklyn on opening night.

The Blazers’ defense looked great during the preseason, but Toronto played without DeMar DeRozan, the Clippers without Danilo Gallinari and Austin Rivers, and the Kings without four of five starters.

Then in the season opener, a 124-76 win at Phoenix, the Suns looked like a team that will vie for the worst record in the league.

It’s why coach Terry Stotts and the players have taken a cautiously optimistic approach when it comes to crowning the Blazers’ D as rehabilitated from last year’s disaster.

“It’s one game,’’ Damian Lillard cautioned after the Suns win. “I was happy to see it carry over. From camp, to preseason, then come the first road game, we did it again. We showed what we can do if we are committed to the defensive end.’’

While the Pacers figure to be a middle-of-the-road team in the East, they will be a better test than the rebuilding Suns. Plus, behind guards Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo and Corey Joseph, the Pacers are emphasizing a fast-paced approach under coach Nate McMillan.

“Nate has done an unbelievable job of letting us take the onus as point guards, and kind of let us run the show,’’ Collison told the Indy Star. “He was a point guard himself. He knows what it’s like to let us see the game, instead of micromanaging every single play. If we can play like that, call a guard game, play with one another, we will be all right.’’

The Pacers’ 140 points was the franchise’s opening night record, and if there has been a soft spot in the Blazers’ defense during the preseason and the opener, it has been in transition.

But the Blazers have been as active and connected as we’ve seen since the days when Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez vaulted Portland into the Top 10 in defense.

Stotts has repeatedly referred to this defense as “alert” and “focused” and on Wednesday in Phoenix the trio of Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu on the perimeter was as imposing collection of arms and length as I can remember from a Blazers team.

So another game, another test to see whether the Blazers really are ready to defend. Should be interesting. NBC Sports Northwest will carry the game at 4 p.m. with Rip City Live pregame show starting at 3 p.m.

Today's Blazers' links:

I wrote about Evan Turner and his defensive job on Devin Booker.

The Indy Star previewed tonight's game.

It's an Indiana homecoming for Pat Connaughton and Caleb Swanigan.

 

How and where to watch the game: Trail Blazers at Pacers

usatsi_9993940.jpg

How and where to watch the game: Trail Blazers at Pacers

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

The Portland Trail Blazers continue its three-game road trip with a stop in Indiana on Friday night to take on the Pacers.  Portland is coming off a 124-76, opening night win over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. The 48-point victory was the largest margin of victory on any opening night in NBA history.

The big story of the opening night was Pat Connaughton and his career-night of 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting all coming off the bench for the Blazers. Damian Lillard was the one to lead the charge, though, with 27 points, five assists and five rebounds.

Friday night against the Pacers will mark the first game of the season for CJ McCollum after McCollum was suspended for opening night for stepping foot on the court during an October 11th preseason game when Blazer rookie Caleb Swanigan got in an altercation with Suns big man Alex Len.

Looking at the injury report for Portland, rookie Zach Collins (gastroenteritis) is listed as probable after missing the season opener on Wednesday night and forward Noah Vonleh (right shoulder) is still out for Friday’s game.

As for the Pacers, Indiana beat the Brooklyn Nets, 140-131, on Wednesday night.  Friday’s contest will be the second game for the new look Pacers (minus Paul George).  This is an obvious rebuilding time for Indiana, as the Pacers returned just five players from last season. 

In Wednesday’s win over the Nets, Myles Turner scored 21 points and pulled down 14 rebounds.  And, in their debuts as Indiana Pacers, Victor Oladipo had 22 points, five rebounds, four assists and Domantas Sabonis added16 points and had seven rebounds.

Last season Portland and Indiana split the season series with each team winning on its home courts.

Our Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, and Orlando Williams will help set the stage for the Blazers and Pacers contest with Rip City Live on NBC Sports Northwest starting at 3:00pm.

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out our pregame coverage with The Scoop Pregame Show streaming live on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 3:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.
 


Quick Links:

It was just one game, Blazer fans – but what a game it was

Evan Turner helps lock down Devin Booker, then praises Suns’ rising star

Report: Blazers sign Wade Baldwin to two-way deal

 

Video:  Highlight: Blazers 124, Suns 76

Video:  Connaughton: Be the same guy day in and day out

Video:  Lillard: You couldn’t ask for a better effort

Video:  Dwight doubles down on Pat Connaughton

 

Game Details:

Where:  Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis IN

Tip-off: 4:00pm

Television: NBCS Northwest

CSN Programming:  Rip City Live (3:00pm), 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 of NBCS programing: The Scoop Pregame Show streams at 3:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. 

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

Report: Blazers sign Wade Baldwin to two-way deal

usatsi_10327853.jpg

Report: Blazers sign Wade Baldwin to two-way deal

The recently released Wade Baldwin has found a new home with the Portland Trail Blazers, this according to reports from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski

Baldwin failed to make the final 15-man roster this season with the Memphis Grizzlies, and was waived back on October 16.

Baldwin, the 17th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, spent most of last season jumping between Memphis and the Iowa Energy of the D-League. He has played in 33-games during his short career, averaging 3.2 points and 1.8 assists per game.

Stay tuned to NBCS Northwest for all the latest information on the Baldwin signing.

Evan Turner helps lock down Devin Booker, then praises Suns' rising star

Evan Turner helps lock down Devin Booker, then praises Suns' rising star

PHOENIX – If the Phoenix Suns were “embarrassed” Wednesday by the Trail Blazers, as coach Earl Watson suggested after the 124-76 defeat, Evan Turner says they can take solace in something: the will of Devin Booker.

It was a big night for Turner, who earned the spot start in place of the suspended CJ McCollum, an assignment that pitted him against Booker, of the NBA’s most promising offensive stars. The marquee defensive assignment was what Turner wanted, and it was a spotlight start to his quest to become All-NBA Defense this season.

“I think I did great,’’ Turner said matter-of-factly after Booker was held to 6-of-17 shooting and 12 points – more than 10 points below his season average last season.

But Turner wasn’t boasting. In fact, he wanted to talk more about Booker than himself.

What stood out to Turner was the way Booker kept fighting on a night that was frustrating both on a personal level and a team level. The Blazers led by as many as 58 and Booker could never get anything going, constantly running into the swarming arms of Turner, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu, or the mobility of big man Jusuf Nurkic.

“Sometimes when you have young kids who don’t win ever, it seems like they become content with it,’’ Turner said. “But I think he has a next level, where he wants to win.’’

Turner could sense the frustration of the 20-year-old throughout the night, and it impressed him.

“He cares. I think that’s what I respect about him the most,’’ Turner said. “You go up against certain young guys in the league and they are … they get (an) NBA (attitude) … but I think that kid genuinely cares.’’

Turner said before the season he wanted to publicize his NBA All-Defense aspirations, much like Draymond Green did, in order to draw attention to his work on that side of the ball.

“I think it would be cool, and it’s an attainable goal,’’ Turner said. “Obviously, you have to put it out there first so the masses can get the idea to watch you play defense. You saw Draymond lobby for Defensive Player of the Year for four years, and he just finally got it.

“But sometimes, when it comes down to it, I think I’m an underrated defender. I will slide from guarding a 5-foot-9 guy to a 6-9 guy. So, I don’t know what it takes to be called elite, but I think I can be an elite defender in this league,’’ Turner said.

Wednesday against Booker and the Suns was a nice addition to his defensive portfolio, but Turner wanted to make sure his satisfaction with his defense wasn’t taken as a slight on Booker.

“I mean, not to knock the kid … he is super talented, super good - everything people think,’’ Turner said. “And he has a bright future because he can score in several different ways, and I think he is going to get even better. I just hope they are able to turn the corner. He has to understand there are going to be nights like this, where nothing clicks. That’s just how it goes. But I definitely respect the skillset he has as well as his knowledge of the game. You don’t see that much.’’

It was just one game, Blazer fans -- but what a game it was

It was just one game, Blazer fans -- but what a game it was

OK, Blazer fans, you know the drill.

Keep repeating this to yourself: "It's just one game. It's just one game. It's just one game"

And there are 81 yet to play. But I must admit, that 48-point win on opening night on the road was very impressive. And I don't care how bad the Suns are, it was quite a game for the Trail Blazers.

Let's talk about it:

  • The defense was obviously very solid. The Suns are a guard-oriented offensive team and the Blazers took those guards -- Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe -- out of the game, holding them to 11-for-35 shooting from the field and Phoenix had nothing left. And shortly after intermission, the overmatched Suns pretty much quit.
  • You can give several individual players their due for the defense, but what I liked best was the cohesion by the entire team at the defensive end. Pick-and-roll defense was improved and so was the interior stuff. Jusuf Nurkic makes a difference in the paint with his ability to leave his own man and intimidate drivers. Mostly, I saw a new alertness and aggression at the defensive end -- and that was special.
  • Pat Connaughton showed what he's capable of doing and it was plenty. Maybe it was just because this game was in Phoenix but he reminded me a lot of Dan Majerle, except he's a better three-point shooter than the ex-Sun.
  • Damian Lillard was, well, Damian Lillard. That leadership he provides is as important as his talent. He's a rare one, folks. A special player.
  • This was another illustration of Portland's overall talent level. Coach Terry Stotts played everybody and they all can play. This isn't a season when the Blazers will have two or three players at the end of the bench who are "projects" or merely players happy to be there. These guys all belong on an NBA court.
  • It's on to Indiana for a matchup against the Pacers, who amassed 140 points in their opening win over Brooklyn, so it should be a better test for the Portland defense. And remember, it's just the second of 82 games.

Blazers' Maurice Harkless starts his own All-Defense campaign

Blazers' Maurice Harkless starts his own All-Defense campaign

PHOENIX – Evan Turner says he wants to be named NBA All-Defense this season, but during the Trail Blazers’ season opener on Wednesday, he found he might have some pretty stiff competition.

And it’s coming from his own teammate, Maurice Harkless.

Harkless on Wednesday had such an inspiring and dominating defensive performance that at times during the Blazers’ 124-76 victory teammates stood and applauded him, while coaches bowed in respect.

Afterward, Turner feigned offense that Harkless stole his own defensive shine.

“I know I said I want to be All-Defense, but dang, Moe looked like he was about to do it!’’ Turner said. “He was all over the place. It was actually crazy. I was like, ‘Is that Moe again? Is that Moe AGAIN?!’’

Harkless had one block and tied Damian Lillard with a team-high five deflections, but his impact went beyond what any statistic could measure. If he wasn’t ball-hawking Suns’ touted rookie Josh Jackson, Harkless was offering help to cut off lanes for scoring specialist Devin Booker. And throughout the night, he was pairing with Turner or Al-Farouq Aminu on switches, providing a seemingly impenetrable wall of arms and hands.

Perhaps most notably, with the Blazers leading 43-30 in the second quarter, Harkless denied a perimeter pass to Jackson, but just missed. He recovered quick enough to cut off his baseline drive, then poked away the ball when Jackson tried to crossover dribble.

The play happened in front of the Blazers’ bench and had everyone standing. Assistant Dale Osbourne got so hyped, he pounded Harkless’ chest several times.

“Plays like that get the whole team excited,’’ Harkless said. “Sparks everyone to play like that on defense. If that’s what I got to do, then that’s what I got to do.’’

Harkless said that sequence took him back to the playground in Queens, where he learned to like defense.

“You are making the other guy mad. It’s funny. Like after that play, (Jackson) was mad,’’ Harkless said. “I was talking trash … stuff like that is fun, it takes you back to the playground,  playing one-on-one against guys, talking trash the whole time. That’s how I learned to play basketball, so it’s still fun to me.’’

Harkless has vowed this season to be a defensive leader, and that includes not letting a quiet offensive night carry over to his defense. Wednesday was exhibit A in being a defensive leader.

After his play on Jackson in front of the Blazers’ bench, Harkless had nice transition defense to stop Jackson, then later blocked a fast-break layin attempt. That prompted assistant David Vanterpool to yell to Harkless across the court and bow in respect.

The funny thing about Harkless’ standout night was it started so poorly. He was whistled for two fouls just 2:34 into the game and had to go to the bench. Sometimes when players get in early foul trouble, it creates a tendency to be tentative when they return.

Not Harkless.

“I think I have more of a hit-first mentality, whereas before I had a hit-back mentality,’’ Harkless said. “I’m approaching this year a little bit different. That’s how I’m looking to approach every game.’’

Like Turner, who’s hoping his talk about All-Defense will draw attention to his craft, Harkless is hoping that eventually referees will catch on to his more aggressive and physical defensive style and perhaps prevent a repeat of his two early fouls.

“Eventually, the refs will see I’m just physical, and let me play,’’ Harkless said.

Today's Blazers' links:

Speaking of Harkless, Mens Fitness writes about his core workout.

I wrote about Pat Connaughton making the most of his opportunity.

Damian Lillard says the Blazers couldn't ask for better effort.

The Arizona Republic writes about the worst loss in Suns' history.

Casey Holdahl at the Blazers writes that Connaughton proves he belongs on the court, not the diamond.

Joe Freeman at The Oregonain writes about Connaughton and Harklesss leading the way.

Pat Connaughton makes the most of his opening night opportunity

Pat Connaughton makes the most of his opening night opportunity

PHOENIX – Sometimes in the NBA, all it takes is a chance, an opportunity, to show one belongs.

We saw it three years ago, as the Blazers were dying in the 2015 NBA playoffs in Memphis, and a youngster named CJ McCollum was thrown into the fire. He responded with 33 points in Game 5, catapulting him into what is now a star-studded career.

We saw it last year, when a young center named Jusuf Nurkic, left to wilt on the vine in Denver, revitalized his career and a team in Portland, after he was given a chance to start.

And Wednesday, in the Trail Blazers’ season opener, Pat Connaughton was given his chance, and the third-year guard didn’t miss it.

Connaughton hit his first five shots on the way to a 24-point performance that helped make up for the suspension of CJ McCollum and carry the Blazers to a 124-76 win at Phoenix.

“He was prepared for this moment,’’ team captain Damian Lillard said of Connaughton.

The opening night performance comes on the heels of a solid preseason where Connaughton showed he had diversified, and improved, his game. No longer just a three-point shooter, Connaughton showed in the preseason improved play-making skills, particularly his ball-handling and passing, and a comfort level befitting of an established veteran.

Coach Terry Stotts didn’t blink an eye at the performance. He half expected it.

“He’s been shooting the ball with confidence, and he showed that tonight,’’ Stotts said. “He played with a lot of poise and a lot of confidence.’’

It wasn’t just an emphatic performance, it was a timely one, too.

When Connaughton entered just 2:34 into the game to replace Maurice Harkless, who was assessed two quick fouls, the Blazers were down 7-2. It soon became 9-2, and the Blazers were looking impatient and jittery on offense, perhaps out of sync because of McCollum’s absence.

But Connaughton hit a three, then beat Phoenix in transition for back-to-back layins. Then he hit another three, giving Portland a 15-13 lead they would never relinquish.

All told, Connaughton hit 9-of-14 shots, including 4-of-7 three-pointers, prompting Lillard to shout “Pat McCollum!” in the locker room afterward. While Connaughton is unlikely to make the Blazers forget about the silky shooting of McCollum, his performance Wednesday was a start to answering how the Blazers would respond to losing Allen Crabbe in a summer trade with Brooklyn.

“Everybody was wondering where the three’s were going to come from,’’ Stotts smirked. “Pat is one of them.’’

And to think, two months ago, there was debate whether Connaughton would actually stick in the NBA, or turn his attention to baseball, where he was drafted as a pitcher by the Baltimore Orioles.

The Blazers had until Aug. 31 to decide whether to exercise a $1.4 million option on Connaughton, and after a rather pedestrian showing in the Las Vegas Summer League, it was anything but assured Connaughton would be retained by Portland.

When the Blazers did pick up the option, it set in motion a diligent workout regime. Lillard said he recounted a time when Connaughton was making 1,000 shots a day.

Connaughton said he is aided by adopting his old baseball mentality, where a player has to learn how to move on from failure. It is a sport, after all, where a hitter can fail seven times out of 10 and still be considered excellent at his craft.

“It’s having that quote-unquote baseball mentality – the short memory -- and making sure that I’m in the right positions for my teammates to make shots for them or to make plays for them and get them open shots,’’ Connaughton said. “That’s something I’ve been working on all summer and quite frankly, the last two years, so that when I got my opportunity I was able to take advantage of it.’’

Blazers lay the smackdown in Phoenix, beat Suns, 124-76

usatsi_10354974_1.jpg

Blazers lay the smackdown in Phoenix, beat Suns, 124-76

The Blazers layed the smackdown on the Suns, making every aspect of the game look easy. The offense was clicking and the defense was on lock. Big blocks and big steals were followed by big buckets. Even with CJ McCollum on the sideline the Blazers didn't skip a beat. Pat Connaughton had a career night scoring 24 points, and the Blazers left little doubt. Not a bad way to start the season. 

Final Score: Portland 124 - Phoenix 76