Jusuf Nurkic brings laughs and smiles during Trail Blazers' film session

Jusuf Nurkic brings laughs and smiles during Trail Blazers' film session

The postseason always brings new energy, new focus, and new perspective.

For the Portland Trail Blazers, the players have discussed over the last two days their confidence in the game plan against the Thunder in their first round playoff series.

After Saturday’s practice, on the eve of Game 1, players and Blazers head coach Terry Stotts had something extra special to talk about.

Jusuf Nurkic made a special visit to the Trail Blazers practice facility Saturday morning.

It was apparent by talking with the players, Nurkic brought a new kind of happy energy to the team.

“Yeah, he was in film today,” Lillard said with a big smile.

“It was good to see him. I had seen before, but for him to show up here, I think it meant a lot to everybody,” Stotts said.

It has been nearly three weeks since Nurkic sustained compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula at home against the Nets.

The injury has left the Blazers trying to figure out how to fill the large void down low.

Saturday’s practice was about getting the necessary Game 1 prep in, but it was also about catching up with the Blazers' center.

“He came in during film session and surprised everybody,” Maurice Harkless said. “It was pretty cool.”

Saturday marked the first time Nurkic had visited the Blazers practice facility since the injury, but it was the second time Lillard and other players had got a chance to hang out with Nurk in the last couple of weeks.

“It was definitely good to see him outside of his house, moving around, in a better mood,” Harkless said.

Nurkic is currently walking around on crutches after being 18 days out from surgery.

Even though Nurk has not physically been around the team much, he has been with them in one way or another.

In typical Nurkic fashion, he made his teammates and Coach Stotts smile before the team really dug in to the film session.

Harkless told the story of Nurkic joking with Coach Stotts, as Nurk told Stotts, “I figured you might need a little help.”

“It was fun. Nurk keeps it light all time. You can tell he’s in a better mood than he has been,” Harkless added.

There has been a lot of speculation that Nurkic will be in attendance of Game 1.

Imagine the kind of reception the Moda Center crowd will give their one and only Bosnian Beast? The playoff energy combined with Nurk Fever would no doubt be an overwhelming feeling of emotions for fans, players, the coaching staff, and especially Nurkic as he continues the long road to recovery. 

“His spirits seem to be moving in the right direction, which is important,” Harkless said.

A pregame announcement of Nurkic being in the building, would be a fitting way to tip-off the postseason vs. the Thunder.

Meyers Leonard on Game 4: "Have pride. Simple as that"

Meyers Leonard on Game 4: "Have pride. Simple as that"

For Meyers Leonard, it was a special opportunity Saturday night, a rare chance to start a playoff game.  And for Leonard, there haven’t been a lot of chances to start ANY games.

He didn’t get off the bench at all in 21 Portland games this season and was in the starting lineup only twice – with one of those being that final contest of the year when the Trail Blazers rested the starters and turned the game over to their young players, other than the 27-year-old Leonard.

He did not play in 10 of his team’s final 16 games of the regular season and then sat out five of the Trail Blazers’ last seven playoff games before going the entire fourth quarter of Game 2 against Golden State.

And it’s not as if he hasn’t been a solid playoff contributor during his career. In 24 playoff games, he’s shot 50.6 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from three-point range.

In 2014-15, as a 22-year-old, second-year player. Leonard hit 10 of 13 three-point field goals over a five-game playoff series vs. Memphis.

In the spotlight of a must-win game Saturday night, Leonard knocked down half of his 12 shots from the floor, three of seven from long distance and scored 16 points in a very consistent performance at both ends of the floor.

“I thought Meyers played great,” Damian Lillard said Sunday. “Meyers had a great game.”

No matter how infrequent his appearances, Leonard always keeps himself ready.

He wasn’t anxious to talk about the frustration and disappointment he has suffered during a career that has seen him spend more time on the bench than on the court. He doesn’t criticize his coaching staff or cause dissension over his situation, even though, at various times, his production has appeared to merit more minutes on the floor and Trail Blazer fans have demeaned him on the talk shows and social media because of his salary.

“What I'll say is, I'm thankful that Coach Stotts and the staff and my teammates, for that matter, had the belief in me and know that I can play,” he said Sunday prior to his team’s practice. “It's been up and down, and I approach every day the same as if I'm going to play.

“I try to prepare as best I can, and I used this quote last night, it's one that I really like. It's what the (Navy) Seals talk about: You don't really rise to the occasion, you fall back on training.

“I put a lot of work in, and I feel that I'm very dedicated to myself and to my team to improving and being ready to play when my number is called.  So, although the minutes have been up and down and it's, I guess, not consistent, my goal is to remain consistent when I'm counted on.

“In a pretty big game, obviously, it's been, whatever, 19 years since the Blazers have been in the Western Conference finals, I feel that I did a pretty darned good job being ready to play and trying to help us win.”

And, as always, Leonard is resolute about what his team must do to keep from making this series a 4-0 Warriors’ sweep Monday night.

“Have pride,” he said. “Simple as that. You know, we can easily just say, well, we're down 0-3, no one else has ever done it, why not just get to the summer?

“That's not who we are. That's not, certainly not our mindset. And we have a group of guys that really care and love to win, and so we're going to come out tomorrow night and we're going to fight and we're going to give them a really good effort.”

Something Leonard always does.

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Damian Lillard playing through pain, team playing with pride

Damian Lillard playing through pain, team playing with pride

The Trail Blazers will look to keep their season alive on Monday night when Portland hosts Golden State in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. 

Damian Lillard spoke with the media before Sunday’s practice ahead of Game 4, to talk about his reported injury, how the team approaches being down 3-0, and more.

PLAYING THROUGH PAIN

Lillard confirmed that he has been playing with separated ribs.

“I feel fine, I mean, it happened early in the second game. I think the third [quarter] of the second game. I finished the game and played last night,” Lillard said.

Lillard also said, “I don’t think it’s affecting my game.”

The Trail Blazers point guard is not taking any painkillers for his injury, but he has been playing with his ribs taped and padded.

BLAZERS COMING TOGETHER FOR GAME 4

One thing is for sure – the Blazers will not roll over now that they’re down 3-0. Portland is now playing for pride.

“We’ve put so much into the success that we’ve had this season that everybody cares,” Lillard said. “It means something to everybody. So on top of all those things, having pride and not wanting to be swept, we’re not ready to stop playing. So it’s as simple as that.”

Meyers Leonard added that the team’s mindset is to, “have pride-- simple as that. You know, we can easily just say, ‘well, we’re down 0-3, no one else has ever done it, why not just get to the summer.’ That’s not who we are. That’s not, certainly our mindset… We have a group of guys that really care.”

LILLARD REACHED OUT TO FORMER OREGON DUCK

Former Oregon wide receiver, Keanon Lowe, tackled the armed student at Parkrose High School in NE Portland Friday night. The local high school that thankfully avoided tragedy on Friday holds a special spot in Lillard’s heart.  

“Parkrose, first of all, my connection to Parkrose, they’re one of my Respect Schools where I go and speak to those kids. I form relationships with their staff and students at the school, and they’ve really bought into the respect campaign. There’s a connection there,” Lillard said.

Lillard and the Blazers invited Lowe to Game 3 at Moda Center Saturday night. Lillard spoke to Lowe after the game.

“For him to take that type of stand and to go tackle the kid and protect all those people and himself I think just – that’s a real hero move,” Lillard said.

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'Wrecking ball' Draymond Green is demolishing the Trail Blazers

'Wrecking ball' Draymond Green is demolishing the Trail Blazers

With Rip City nearly reduced to rubble, the leader of the demolition lingered at midcourt to celebrate with his co-workers.

Draymond Green hugged Stephen Curry and then hi-fived Alfonzo McKinnie, Kevon Looney and Klay Thompson. Behind a virtuoso performance from their fiery do-it-all forward, the Golden State Warriors grabbed a commanding 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals, moving them one win away from a fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.

“I don’t even know what to say about Draymond,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He was like a wrecking ball, destroying everything in his path. The pace that he was generating was incredible. It just seemed like he never got tired.”

Game 3 in the Moda Center played out much the same way as Game 2 at Oracle Arena had two days earlier. The Blazers put together a brilliant first 24 minutes then the wrecking ball came crashing through in third quarter. The Warriors have a way of making double-digit leads crumble in an instant, the Blazers’ 18 point lead in Game 3 last longer than their 17 point lead in Game 2, but the final result was still the same.

In the decisive third quarter Saturday night, Green took two shots, drawing a shooting foul on one and finishing a transition layup on the other. But he changed the game with his force, creating 13 points off six assist and grabbing six rebounds while pushing the pace at every opportunity. He overwhelmed the Blazers and shifted the series likely for good.

Defensively, Green was seemingly everywhere. He would trap Damian Lillard above the three-point arc and then recover to disrupt the back end of the play to make life miserable for the Blazers if they could maneuver into the paint.

Even before the game-changing third quarter, Green kept the Warriors in striking range in the first half. Getting easy transition buckets by relentlessly pushing the ball after the Blazers would score. He kept the window open for a Golden State run, and then decided to just kick the front door down instead.

“He was the difference-maker,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “What he did, he kept them going, even though we had a lead in the first half, his energy, the way he was pushing the ball, kept them going, and you know, he has such an impact on the game on both ends.”

Curry and Thompson get the headlines for the Warriors and rightfully so. Curry’s long-range shooting threat has helped the Warriors leverage easy baskets all series long. But it’s Green’s decision making that has helped Golden State take advantage of a team so concentrated on a Splash Brothers onslaught. Trap Curry, and Green will happily make the right play out as he rolls to the rim. Fail to get over a screen, and Green will deliver a pass with impeccable timing to capitalize on the mistake.  

“It’s an interesting challenge,” Blazers forward Moe Harkless said. “Because he so good playing with his teammates. He’s like the perfect fit for the guys around him.”

The Blazers have made their adjustments, and mostly they have been effective. They’ve ratcheted up the perimeter pressure on Curry and Thompson to take away the opens three-pointers Portland conceded in Game 1. Stotts inserted Meyers Leonard into the starting group in Game 3, a move that helped the Blazers get more space on offense and loosen up the Warriors defense with an additional long-range shooter and strong screen setter.

Those adjustments weren’t enough. In large part because Green is hard to scheme against. Daring a non-shooter to take unguarded jumpers can work, unless of course that non-shooter is driving the ball at full speed towards the rim, compromising a defense and finding his all-world teammates with uncanny timing. Avoiding an All-NBA defender on offense works, until he steps into passing lanes from the weakside or meets a drive in the paint with swarming ferocity.

The adjustments limited the easy splashes. They haven’t stop the wrecking ball. Green’s relentlessness has seemingly worn down the Blazers. Portland’s stars looked tired, Golden State looks to be rounding into title chasing rhythm.

“We just want to try to wear guys down over the course of 48 minutes,” Green said when asked if Golden State pressure had exhausted Lillard and Blazers teammates. “It's not necessarily that he's going to start the game gassed but if you can just wear him down over the course of 48 minutes, that makes those shots as the game goes on a little bit tougher.”

In the past, Green could be rattled. His biggest nemeses were the people with whistles, not those in opposing jerseys. Admittedly, Green said he “got to a point where I was doing more crying than playing.” His feud with the officials on hold, he can get back to making life miserable for his opponents. His multi-faceted brilliance has all but ended the Blazers seasons.

The Blazers have played back to back excellent first halves, they made subtle defensive adjustments and found a better solution in their starting lineup. Sometime this summer the Blazers may be able to appreciate what they accomplished during this run to West Finals. But that time isn’t now, because they’re seemingly out of moves and out answers. Their inevitable demolition is coming. They can’t avoid the wrecking ball.

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Damian Lillard speaks about his injured ribs

Damian Lillard speaks about his injured ribs

TUALATIN - Damian Lillard spoke to the media Sunday afternoon with the elephant in the room being the reported injury to his ribs he sustained in Game 2. 

Lillard addressed the injury and said he had to play through the pain, but it wasn't limiting him on the court:

"Just the pain from having a separated rib. There's noting you can really do about it. Just when I get winded it's a little harder to breathe. Contact, you know, when you're in there banging with guys."  Lillard said.

The Trail Blazers All-Star point guard also said, "I don't think it's affecting my game."

Lillard played with his ribs taped and padded during Game 3. 

The Trail Blazers are down 0-3 to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and will need everything Lillard has left in the tank if they want to get a win on Monday night to keep the series alive. 

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Meyers Leonard felt "bittersweet" after Game 3

Meyers Leonard felt "bittersweet" after Game 3

PORTLAND – Another poor shooting third quarter doomed the Trail Blazers on Saturday night.

“It was essentially one really good half of basketball, and then we’re talking about the World Champs,” Meyers Leonard said postgame.

Those World Champs have been here before. It’s nothing new for the Golden State Warriors to be down in a Western Conference Finals game and then be able to tighten up defensively while piling on the points.

Golden State now takes a commanding 3-0 series lead after Game 3’s 110-99 victory.

Similar to Game 2 of the series, the Blazers let this one slip away after a great first half.

The biggest adjustment for both teams was the insertion of a new center in their starting lineups.

Golden State started center Damian Jones in place of Andrew Bogut, while the Blazers went with Meyers Leonard.  Neither player had seen many minutes in the first two games.

The Blazers had the advantage with the lineup change, particularly in the first half. With Leonard in the lineup, it looked as though Portland’s plan was to outshoot the Warriors instead of trying to slow them down.  

[RELATED]: Are all those games, all those minutes, catching up with the Trail Blazers?

Leonard finished with a new playoff career-high 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including 3-for-7 from three, and he was the first Trail Blazers player to score in double figures on Saturday.

Leonard’s positive impact didn’t go unnoticed by Blazers head coach Terry Stotts.

“He had a terrific first half like the rest of the team,” Stotts said. “I liked his spacing and the way he played in Game 2 in Golden State. He can space the floor, and he and Dame [Lillard], and he and CJ [McCollum], have a good two-man game.”

Leonard’s previous playoff career-high was set back in April of 2015 during the Blazers First Round series against the Memphis Grizzlies, when he scored 13 points.

Leonard was pleased with his individual performance.

“It’s a little bittersweet because we lost,” Leonard said.

The Blazers were outscored 29-13 in the third quarter. Leonard had just one three-pointer in the quarter.

“This one stings for me personally, because I was given a bigger opportunity and I feel that for a good majority of the night I was helping us win that game and making an impact, but we didn’t come out with a win, so back to the drawing board and come back Monday night ready to go,” Leonard said.

The Trail Blazers center made sure to make a point that even though he was happy with his game, he was disappointed in the overall result.

“This isn’t about me, it’s about the team. Winning at the end of the day is all that matters. So, I’ve got to find a way to be a little bit better and come out Monday night and try to the get the job done,” Leonard said.

Leonard had 13 of his 16 points by halftime. There were a few times he hesitated from deep, and he acknowledged he knows he is in the game to space the floor, saying that is one of his jobs.

“I think I’ve put a lot of work in and all I want to do is help this team win and when I came off the floor, I think it was sometime in the second quarter, you know, the fans were pretty loud, it was a pretty special feeling, “Leonard added.

Now, the 27-year-old is eager to look at the film.

“I feel personally that I have taken more contested shots and that I’m doing a better job of that, however, I’m sure when I look at the film either late tonight or tomorrow, I’ll probably see four or five attempts that maybe I could’ve gotten up,” Leonard said.

The 7-footer was an in-demand interview after the game.  A rotating cast of media members came by to talk to the Blazers' big man, and there was one phrase he kept repeating several times: 

“If felt good to be out there tonight," Leonard said.

The positive impact was felt, but it wasn’t enough to get by the back-to-back champs.

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Are all those games, all those minutes, catching up with the Trail Blazers?

Are all those games, all those minutes, catching up with the Trail Blazers?

There is just one question left after the Golden State Warriors disposed of the Portland Trail Blazers 110-99 in Moda Center Saturday night:

Are the Trail Blazers, trailing 3-0, going to waste the jet fuel for their charter aircraft to go to Oakland for a Game 5 of this seven-game series?

Not sure. But it’s going to take a better effort to extend this series than Portland gave in the second half of Game 3.

Halftime? That was the perfect name for what happened over the last two quarters. Portland scored 66 points in the first half and just 33 in the second. Half!

And it was a crazy night for the Trail Blazers, who got solid play off the bench and from surprise starter at center, Meyers Leonard.

The problem was the starting guards – and that doesn’t happen often to the Blazers. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined to go 7-23 from the floor and 3-13 from three in the second half, as their team shot 30.8 percent from the field and 25 percent from three after halftime.

For the game, the duo was 12-38 and 5-19 … AND just 13-20 from the foul line, the driving force behind their team’s 20-33 mess at the free-throw line. And they also combined for six turnovers, five by Lillard.

And after watching them play for the entire season, I must say I’ve never seen them as worn down as they looked Saturday.

“Everybody’s tired,” Lillard said. “It’s the third round of the playoffs after a long season. Last series I got a lot of attention and the same thing in this series. It takes a lot to deal with that and then go out there and chase guys around on the defensive end.

“But everybody’s putting that effort out. And I feel fine enough to go out there and play 40 minutes like I have been. But it’s definitely tiring.”

McCollum spoke about the blitzing the Warriors have done on Portland’s pick-and-rolls and their double-teaming.

“They’ve been up at the level of the screen and in iso situations they do a good job of loading up,” McCollum said. “So you never are really by yourself. The elbows, boxes. Sometimes they just send a second defender. They are very smart about how they structure their defense.

“But you know, we have to do a better job. That’s what elite defenses do. They make it difficult on you and try to get the other guys to beat you.”

And of course, the Blazers’ “other guys” are often not up to the task.

Leonard, who had been buried on the bench a good part of the season (and his career, for that matter), gave his team 31 solid minutes, hitting 6 of 12 and 3-7 from long range.

“He had a terrific first half, like the rest of the team,” Coach Terry Stotts said of Leonard. “I liked his spacing and the way he played in Game 2 in Golden State.

“You know, he can space the floor, and he and Dame and he and CJ have a good two-man game. Obviously, it’s designed to help our offense a little bit. It really looked good in the first half. Not so much the second half. But that wasn’t his fault.”

Of course, Jusuf Nurkic isn’t available, but I’ll never understand how a player can be deemed important enough to play the entire final quarter of Game 2 and then start Game 3 of the conference finals after not playing AT ALL in 21 games during the regular season and starting only twice. And, in fact, he did not play a single minute in Game 1 of this series, either.

A little more playing time along the way might have made him even more effective. But that’s the Meyers Leonard Story and it’s been a mystery long enough to convince a lot of people that Leonard can’t play. Until the conference finals, I guess.

Stotts was asked about his team’s second half.

“Our offense,” he said. “Our offense fell apart. We missed some shots. Took some tough shots. Didn’t move the ball as well. They were scoring so we were taking the ball out of the net and didn’t get anything in transition.

“I said at the beginning of the series, to beat Golden State you’ve got to be able to score. Scoring 33 in the second half is not going to do it.”

Draymond Green had a sensational game for the Warriors at both ends of the court and he made a telling remark at the end of his post-game media session.

The Warriors really bought into resting players this season and it may be the reason they looked so much like the fresher team Saturday night.

“You know,” Green said, “Steve (Kerr) and our entire organization has been on board, making sure our guys get as much rest as you possibly can through a rigorous season. It’s a rigorous schedule and especially right now with Kevin (Durant) out, those rest days during the year, they make a difference for us.

“So that’s been good and sometimes it may cost you a game or two during the regular season but it’s more important to be healthy at this time of the year. I understand that. We’re trying to play into late, mid-June every year. It’s good to be healthy so I think its making a difference for us.”

Portland’s final chance to extend the series comes Monday night at Moda. But by now, it’s firmly established which team is the best in the West.

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Report: Damian Lillard has separated ribs and has been playing through it

Report: Damian Lillard has separated ribs and has been playing through it

Accordingly to Shams Charania, Damian Lillard has been playing injured:

Lillard has struggled throughout the series. He's only recorded 15 made field goals and 14 turnovers. 

Sam Amick of the Athletic confirmed that the play injury happenED in Game 2 after Warriors big man Kevon Looney landed on him in a scramble for a loose ball. 

Below is video of that play, where you can see Lillard come up in a considerable amount of pain.

ESPN also confirmed the injury but their sources say there is no story here:

More to come on Lillard's injury from Insider Dwight Jaynes and Reporter Jamie Hudson. 

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"Overhyped and Overrated" Skip Bayless thinks Russell Westbrook is more respected than Damian Lillard

"Overhyped and Overrated" Skip Bayless thinks Russell Westbrook is more respected than Damian Lillard

Oh dear. Everyone's favorite Cliff Notes sportscaster is at it again. Following the Trail Blazers Game 3 loss to the Warriors, Skip Bayless had some thoughtful words about Damian Lillard

Aside from the ludicrous nature of the comments, news also came out postgame that Lillard has been dealing with separated ribs

For more real, actual postgame coverage check out everything you need from Dwight Jaynes, Jamie Hudson, and our NBC Sports Video team:

JAYNES: Are all those games, all those minutes, catching up with the Trail Blazers?

HUDSON: Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 3

Social Media reacts to Game 3: It's Meyers, not Miles Leonard

Lillard up against a wall of defense, but must get rollin'

“This one stings for me personally..." -Meyers Leonard 

Have yourself a night, Meyers Leonard!

Highlights: Deja vu in the 3Q as POR falls 3-0 in the series 

Game 3 Top 10 Plays: Hammer Time in Rip City

"It happens..." Jordan Bell moves on from #Shaqtin dunk 

Social Media reacts to Game 3: It's Meyers, not Miles Leonard

Social Media reacts to Game 3: It's Meyers, not Miles Leonard

Another good lead spoiled by the three-time (in the last four years) NBA Champs once again in this series. Portland built a double-digit lead heading into halftime, but it was deja vu all over again as the third quarter was all Golden State. The Warriors jump out to a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference Finals over the Portland Trail Blazers with a 110-99 win in Portland, Oregon.

Here’s how the sports world reacted on social media:

Meyers Leonard was the hero that all of Rip City needed. Leonard earned the start tonight in game three providing an extra three-point threat on the floor. And boy did he relish in these extra minutes:

If you didn’t watch Warriors second-year player Jordan Bell back in college, you missed out on his impeccable ability to block shots and slam the ball down with authority. However, tonight, Bell experienced both of those traits on the same play:

Let’s bring back the hashtag, #ThingsJordanBellCanBlock:

While eyes were on Leonard and the spark he provided to Rip City, a lot wondered what is happening to superstar Damian Lillard, who hasn’t looked his typical Lillard Time, Logo Lillard self all series:

Game four is Monday night at 6 p.m. (PT) at the Moda Center in Portland.

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