Warriors overhaul Trail Blazers in fourth quarter, take 3-0 series lead

Warriors overhaul Trail Blazers in fourth quarter, take 3-0 series lead

Jusuf Nurkic finally played Saturday night... and it seemed to give the Portland Trail Blazers a little spark. For a while, that spark turned into a raging fire as the Blazers jumped to leads as high as 16 points over the Golden State Warriors. But in the end, the Warriors doused that fire with solid fourth-quarter defense and timely shooting.

The end result was a 119-113 win that pushed Golden State into a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series that continues Monday night in Moda Center. CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers with 32 points and Damian Lillard added 31. Steph Curry had 34 for the Warriors.

The lead seesawed throughout the fourth quarter as two seemingly tired teams traded punches. Portland's shooting percentage, over .500 most of the night, dipped and the Warriors' rose.

The Trail Blazers came out on fire – and the crowd was deep into it when Portland had  an 11-3 lead as the Warriors called a timeout with 9:11 to go in the first quarter. Portland opened the game by hitting its first five shots from the field.

Nurkic, who received a thunderous ovation when introduced with the starting lineup, scored his first basket 2:26 into the game on a bank shot in the lane over Zaza Pachulia.

He left the floor at the 7:06 mark of the quarter and played about five minutes per quarter. He finished with two points, 11 rebounds and four assists in 17 minutes.

The Warriors withstood Portland’s opening salvo and crawled to within four points late in the quarter but the Trail Blazers held a 37-30 lead ater the first quarter behind Lillard’s 15 points, fueled by 3-for-4 shooting from three-point range.

Portland shot 57.7 percent from the field in the opening period and held Golden State to 38.5 percent. But the Blazers had seven turnovers over the first 12 minutes while the Warriors had but one.

In the second quarter Portland stretched the lead as high as 16 as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson struggled from the field for the Warriors.

Lillard and McCollum were the backbone of the Portland offense in the first half, combining for 39 points. The Blazers led 67-54 at halftime on the strength of 53 percent shooting. Portland also held a 29-14 rebound edge at halftime.

The lead ballooned to 16 again in the third but then the Warriors made one of their patented runs and closed to within 82-78 when the Blazers called for a timeout with 3:29 left in the third. Golden State turned up its defense and Portland had trouble getting open shots all of a sudden. By the end of the quarter the Blazers were clinging to an 88-87 lead.

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Hot of out the gate: Blazers play a complete game en route to a route

Hot of out the gate: Blazers play a complete game en route to a route

The Trail Blazers were able to withstand the runs from Utah Friday night to hold off the Jazz, snapping their 11-game win streak.

The Blazers backcourt dazzled once again. CJ McCollum led the way with 26 points on 11 of 21 shooting, while Damian Lillard dropped 24 points on 7 of 18 shooting. 

Maurice Harkless led the way defensively, recording 6 steals as the Blazers shut down the Jazz. 

From home court advantage to going home: The final 24 games

From home court advantage to going home: The final 24 games

The theoretical beginning of the second half of the NBA season begins tonight for the Portland Trail Blazers in Utah as they take on the Jazz, although 70% of games have already been played. Nevertheless, the match-up against these two Western Conference teams will be a crucial game for each team as it relates to playoff-seeding and potential tie-breakers. 

In fact, every game will seemingly have that implication as just 2.5 games separate a team from having home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs to being out of the them altogether. 

Currently, the 10th place Jazz, winners of 11 straight before the All-Star break, are just 4 games behind the Minnesota Timberwolves from hosting a playoff series. The 6th place Trail Blazers are just two games from holding home court and just 1 game from being out of the playoffs.

"I can't remember a race this tight, this late into the season," Terry Stotts said as the Trail Blazers began their preparations for Utah Friday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. "It's a sprint... every game has a little more importance, a little more magnitude to it."

And while the remaining games are about the same for each team, with Memphis and Philadelphia having the most (26) left to play, Golden State (.460), Utah (.484) and Minnesota (.507) have the the easiest schedules among Western Conference playoff teams based on teams' opponents' combined win percentage. San Antonio (.551), Oklahoma City (.526) and the LA Clippers (.522) have the hardest. 

The Trail Blazers have the 4th toughest schedule in the Western Conference among teams vying for a playoff spot, according to tankathon, with their remaining opponents combining for a 52.0 win percentage.

So, it begs the question, with so much at stake: How will the Trail Blazers do down this stretch run? And what are reasonable expectations for Portland? 

Will they sprint to the finish and do well enough to host a playoff series, are they going to be set-up to face Golden State or Houston in the first round and likely see an early exit or find themselves out of the playoffs entirely?

Dan and Nigel broke down the Trail Blazers remaining schedule and are of two different minds.

Dan sees the Blazers as a 48-win team, going 16-8 in the final 24 games. 

Nigel is not as optimistic, saying Portland will go 12-12 and will finish 44-42.

Here's how they predict it game by game: Who do you agree with?

Feb. 23- Trail Blazers at Utah

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Loss

Feb. 24- Trail Blazers at Phoenix

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

Feb. 27- Trail Blazers vs. Sacramento

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

March 1- Trail Blazers vs. Minnesota

Dan: Win

Nigel: Loss

March 3- Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Win

March 5- Trail Blazers at LA Lakers

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

March 6- Trail Blazers vs. New York Knicks

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

March 9- Trail Blazers vs. Golden State

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Loss

March 12- Trail Blazers vs. Miami

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

March 15- Trail Blazers vs. Cleveland 

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Loss

March 17- Trail Blazers vs. Detroit

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

March 18- Trail Blazers at LA Clippers

Dan: Win

Nigel: Loss

March 20- Trail Blazers vs. Houston

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Loss

March 23- Trail Blazers vs. Boston

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Loss

March 25- Trail Blazers at Oklahoma City

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Loss

March 27- Trail Blazers at New Orleans

Dan: Win

Nigel: Loss

March 28- Trail Blazers at Memphis

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

March 30- Trail Blazers vs. Clippers

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

April 1- Trail Blazers vs. Memphis

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

April 3- Trail Blazers at Dallas

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

April 5- Trail Blazers at Houston

Dan: Loss

Nigel: Loss

April 7- Trail Blazers at San Antonio

Dan: Win

Nigel: Loss

April 9- Trail Blazers at Denver

Dan: Win

Nigel: Loss

April 11- Trail Blazers vs. Utah

Dan: Win

Nigel: Win

 

Who do you agree with more?

Trail Blazers make Brandon Rush deal official

Trail Blazers make Brandon Rush deal official

The Portland Trail Blazers have signed guard/forward Brandon Rush to a 10-day contract, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey.  

A nine-year NBA veteran, Rush (6-6, 220) holds career averages of 6.8 points (42.6% FG, 40.2% 3-PT, 70.6% FT), 2.9 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 481 games (163 starts) playing for Indiana, Golden State, Utah and Minnesota. Rush played 47 games (33 starts) for the Timberwolves during the 2016-17 season, averaging 4.2 points (37.4% FG, 38.6% 3-PT, 72.2% FT), 2.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 21.9 minutes.

Rush was originally selected by the Trail Blazers with the 13th pick of the 2008 NBA draft before being traded to the Indiana Pacers.

He will wear No. 21 for the Trail Blazers.

Woj: Trail Blazers sign Brandon Rush to 10 day contract

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USATI

Woj: Trail Blazers sign Brandon Rush to 10 day contract

A minor move for the Trail Blazers is being reported tonight from Adrian Wojnarowski:

 

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

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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.