Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic has been sidelined since March after suffering a grueling ankle injury.
His road to recovery has been a long one, but in recent weeks, Nurkic has returned to the practice court.
“I’m right where I want to be... Pain-free,” Nurkic said after an individual workout in Phoenix in December.
The Blazers 7-footer says he feels that he is about “60 percent.”
Nurk is not just focused on getting healthy, but also coming back better than ever.
I’m not expecting myself to just do the rehab; I want to get better, so I want to get better as a player, better as a person. I see a lot of things differently from the court, from the bench, and in the locker room… I’ve been there, like a totally different person to see the different perspective and I feel like I can help even more. -- Trail Blazer center Jusuf Nurkic
On New Year's Day, Nurkic shared a message with Rip City on his Twitter account.
Down 24 with less than four minutes before halftime, the Trail Blazers looked like they were headed for a demoralizing blowout. Portland’s porous defense had few answers for a hot-shooting Boston Celtics team that appeared primed to run away with one.
Yet despite the early onslaught from Jayon Tatum and the rest of the Celtics rangey wings, the Blazers didn’t buckle. Instead Damian Lillard donned his cape, emerging from the halftime locker room as the hero that has saved the Blazers hopes on countless occasions.
The heroics just weren't quite enough. Lillard scored 22 of his team-high 30 points in the final two quarters and not only brought the Blazers back from a massive deficit he even propelled them to a late lead before the Celtics regrouped and held on for a win. Portland had four possessions to tie or take the lead inside the final two minutes and came up short on all of them.
“We dug ourselves a deep hole against a really good team,” Lillard said. “Any time you do that your chance of winning is going to be pretty slim. I think we showed we’re here for business by how we responded, and how we gave ourselves a chance to win. At this point that’s all we can ask for. We didn’t play a very good first half, and we could’ve easily have folded and laid down and just said, ‘It’s a bad day.’ But we didn’t do that.”
If the win over Memphis on Friday was a glimpse of what might be possible for the Blazers playoff push, Sunday’s loss to the Celtics was a sobering reminder of how difficult their path forward remains.
Heading into the NBA restart in Orlando Lillard was vocal that all he wanted was for his team to have a legitimate chance. They got that, and on Sunday Lillard tried his best to make sure the Blazers didn’t waste the opportunity.
After winning their first seeding game Friday, the Blazers were in control of their own postseason destiny. But with their loss Sunday and a San Antonio victory, Portland has now slipped to tenth place in the West with more obstacles between them and a playoff berth.
The loss to the Celtics was a clear illustration of the Blazers flaws and as well as their strengths. Lillard was magnificent, Jusuf Nurkic continues to be an anchor on both ends and Gary Trent Jr. seems to get better each time he steps on the court. And yet there they were down 24 unable to slow down one of the best teams in the league. With games looming against Houston, Denver, the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia, the schedule isn’t going to soften up.
This team has the talent to forge a path to the postseason, and Sunday was evidence of the challenges that path will no doubt pose.
All that energy expended making a comeback from a 24-point deficit Sunday in Orlando was wasted.
In the end, the Trail Blazers’ defense undermined a terrific offensive performance in the second half and Portland dropped a 128-124 decision to the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics came out on fire, hitting 11 of their 18 threes, many of them wide open, and just about ran the Trail Blazers out of the building.
"We dug ourselves a really deep hole in the first half,” Damian Lillard said. “The reason we came up short was we had to work so hard to get back in it.”
But Boston was solid on offense all game, finishing up at 54.5 percent from the field and a crazy 60 percent from three. That sort of Portland defensive disaster just isn’t going to beat many teams without a heroic effort from the Blazer offense. And that almost happened.
Portland put together a big-time, second-half show at the offensive end -- 38 points in each of the final two quarters, fueled by a 13-23 effort from three-point range -- and took the game down to the final seconds.
At that point, a couple of bad things happened to the Trail Blazers, who had a four-point lead with four minutes to play. Portland allowed the Celts 10 free throws in the final four minutes and they made nine of them. And then there was that crucial decision with 6.8 seconds to play, Portland trailing by three and out of timeouts.
Coach Terry Stotts made it clear after the game that with no timeouts left, his team was looking for a three-point field goal. But the ball was inbounded to Lillard, who had carried his team through much of the second half. And Boston swarmed him.
Lillard had plenty of time and could have probably dribbled out of trouble and gotten off a three-point shot, but he saw Jusuf Nurkic flash wide open in the lane. He passed to Nurkic, who hit a layup, but there were just 3.4 seconds to play and the Blazers, with no timeout left, still trailing by a point.
Boston’s Gordon Hayward hit two free throws and Nurkic’s halfcourt heave in the general direction of Lillard went untouched out of bounds.
It seemed, after a comeback win over Memphis Friday, the Blazers were headed for another exhilarating triumph. But it didn’t happen. The Blazers just couldn't get stops when needed.
There were heroes aplenty for Portland: Lillard had 30 points and 16 assists. Nurkic had 30 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Gary Trent was huge with 21 points and a 7-11 effort from three.
And again, Stotts used just eight players and rode his two guards hard. Lillard played 44:02 and McCollum 41:08.
And the Houston Rockets, three-point gunners of the highest order, await Tuesday.
''If anything, we'll take away (that) we played extremely well in the second half against a really good team,'' Portland coach Terry Stotts said. ''We know what’s at stake. We don't have any time to have a hangover after a loss.''
Hangovers are a problem. But so is that Portland defense -- as it has been all season. And if it doesn’t get better, the Trail Blazers are going to have to do what they often did during the season’s first segment:
Just hope the other team has a poor shooting night.
Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic has said numerous times having Damian Lillard on the court is how and why the Trail Blazers will be able to snag the eighth and final playoff spot in this NBA restart.
Lillard is also the reason the Blazers should never be counted out of a game.
He proved that once again Sunday when Portland squared off against the Boston Celtics.
After Lillard and the Blazers as a team got out to a slow start offensively, and then it was the exact opposite for Boston, the Blazers found themselves down 19 at halftime.
But after the Blazers put on their rally caps behind Lillard, Nurkic, and Gary Trent Jr., the Blazers had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds. It was Portland’s second to last possession where the Celtics knew the plan, just as anyone who watches Trail Blazers basketball knows:
Get Damian Lillard a three.
With 6.8 seconds remaining in the game and Portland down three, Boston pressured Carmelo Anthony on the outbands play, but aimed their attention at Lillard and the three-point line as all five defenders stayed above the key to take away the long ball.
Lillard found a wide-open Nurkic rolling to the hoop to cut the lead to one with 3.4 seconds; however, with no timeouts left that didn’t allow Portland to have another real good opportunity to win the game.
No, the Trail Blazers weren’t looking for a quick two in that situation, but that’s how the play unfolded as Blazers head coach Terry Stotts explained postgame.
“We were hoping to get a three, but they jumped out on Dame and he just made a reaction pass to Nurk, but yeah, of course, we were looking to get a three,” Stotts said.
To think that the Blazers even had a shot at winning this one is what both Nurkic and Lillard were focused on following the 128-124 loss; especially since midway through the third quarter the Blazers still found themselves down 20.
“We showed what we’re capable of doing,” Nurkic said after finishing with 30 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. “The encouraging thing is we had a chance to win the game and we started slow… We had some great shots we didn’t make… I feel happy how we competed in the second half."
After hitting just two buckets for the entire first half, Lillard put the Blazers on his shoulders as he has done time and time again.
The Trail Blazers starting point guard finished the game with a double-double of 30 points and the most assists in the NBA restart thus far with 16.
He was pleased with the way his team never even thought about throwing in the towel.
We dug ourselves in a big hole against a really good team. Anytime you do that your chance to win is gonna be pretty slim, but I think we showed that we’re here for business by how we responded and how we gave ourselves a chance to win. At this point that’s all we can ask for. We didn’t play a very good first half, but we could’ve easily folded and laid down… But we didn’t do that. We came back, take the lead, and fought to the very end of the game, just came up short. I think the reason we came up short is because we had to work so hard to… get back into the game. That took a lot of out of us. And down the stretch, I just thought they did a better job. -- Trail Blazers all-Star Damian Lillard postgame
Lillard also had the tough task of working to slow down Boston’s forward Jayson Tatum after Tatum had his way with the Blazers in the first half.
Tatum finished with 34 points on 11-of-22 shooting. Coach Stotts gave credit to Lillard’s second half defense and couldn’t help but also praise his point guard for his second half performance overall.
Obviously, we rode Dame in the second half. Offensively he was outstanding. He carried the burden. He wanted to play the whole second half. I thought he was very aggressive with Tatum. I thought he got into him, contested his shots, tried to make it difficult for him, so much so that they were running some plays to get switches to get Dame off of him. What Dame did on both ends of the court is pretty commendable. -- Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts
Not only did the Celtics get hot early from three, Trail Blazers starting power forward Zach Collins also picked up three fouls in the first quarter, which quickly disrupted Portland’s rotation.
Even though it’s easy to talk about how impressive it was to see Portland charge back after such a slow start, the Trail Blazers know they can’t continue this trend. If Portland is going to be the team to battle Memphis for that final postseason spot out West, especially with the Spurs moving past the Blazers in the standings to take hold of the No. 9 seed after San Antonio defeated the Grizzlies Sunday, the Blazers' second half defense and intensity must be there from the jump.
During the Trail Blazers scrimmage games before their seeding games tipped off, the concern was how well Portland’s perimeter defense would look once the games mattered.
After beating the Memphis Grizzlies Friday and defending the three better than they showed in the scrimmages, the Blazers struggled to slow down the Boston Celtics from long distance, especially early on.
Boston started out the game hitting 8-of-12 from three in the first quarter as the Celtics took a 37-24 lead.
The C's also clamped down on the defensive end, slowing down the Blazers in the first half. At the break, Boston held a 67-38 lead.
Despite the Celtics running away with this one in the first half, Jusuf Nurkic continued his hot play inside and out throughout the game.
The Trail Blazers didn't quit. Portland chipped away at the Celtics lead in the third quarter and were right back in it heading into the fourth.
Damian Lillard’s experience took over in the second half and thus that meant the Blazers took the game back even after being down by 21 points midway through the third quarter. Yet in the final seconds, Boston was able to hold off the Blazers comeback.
The Celtics got hot early from three and were in a groove offensively throughout the day. There has been a lot made of the Blazers’ struggles defensively, particularly on the perimeter, which was on full display against a good shooting team in the Boston Celtics. Zach Collins picked up three fouls in the first quarter which also disrupted Portland’s rotation.
And then on the other end, the Celtics were able to disrupt Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum early on. The Blazers backcourt made just two shots each in the first half. We all know if opponents are going to exploit Portland’s defense, the Blazers need Lillard and McCollum’s high-scoring performances in all of these seeding games in order for the Blazers to make it to the play-in games.
Lillard knows that as well.
With Lillard running the show; nobody should ever count out the Blazers. Period. Plus, we all know that the NBA is a game of runs and that’s what we saw Sunday afternoon. But in the end, Boston answered Portland's comeback.
Damian Lillard rescued the Blazers from the a near-certain blowout, dragging his team back from a 24-point deficit. But in the final minutes the Celtics just made more shots -- and enough free throws -- to send the Blazers to a tough loss. A moral victory or sorts, but it still lands in the loss column.
You can listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast here with special guest Bill Walton:
Up Next: The Trail Blazers face the Houston Rockets for a 6:00p.m. tip-off Tuesday. Catch all the action on NBC Sports Northwest and stream the game on the MyTeams app.
Be sure to check back throughout the day and tomorrow morning for analysis, articles, and videos from the players!
With the NBA's restart in Orlando, many players wanted to ensure that the league's return didn't do anything to stop the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.
To agree to play, the NBAPA negotiated that the games will be used as platforms to promote social justice activism with phrases on jerseys, "Black Lives Matter" t-shirts, and the same slogan written on the court.
In addition, many have begun kneeling during the national anthem in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. A gesture that began with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016.
Leonard's brother, Bailey Leonard, joined the US Marine Corp in August 2008 and served in Afghanistan at least twice.
“Some of the conversations I’ve had over the past three days, quite literally, have been the most difficult,” Leonard told The Associated Press prior to the game. “I am with the Black Lives Matter movement and I love and support the military and my brother and the people who have fought to defend our rights in this country.”
I am a compassionate human being and I truly love all people. I can’t fully comprehend how our world, literally and figuratively, has turned into Black and white. There’s a line in the sand, so to speak: ‘If you’re not kneeling, you’re not with us.’ And that’s not true.
I will continue to use my platform, my voice and my actions to show how much I care about the African American culture and for everyone,” he added. “I live my life to serve and impact others in a positive way.
A few hours before the game, Bailey texted Meyers: “Stay true to you. Stay the course. I love you. Your family loves you. Your community loves you.”
[Listen to the latest Talking’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon!]
One day after the game, Leonard told Yahoo! Sports NBA Insider Chris Haynes that he doesn't believe that kneeling for the anthem is disrespectful, and instead called it "powerful."
Having known @MeyersLeonard for years, can say he doesn’t have prejudice bone in his body. He agonized, cried at times about not kneeling with teammates. His brother served in Marines, so it was a painful decision. I asked him if he still views kneeling as disrespectful to flag: pic.twitter.com/02YzUUtw3R
The former Trail Blazer talked with current Portland players Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony and former Blazers Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh before making his final decision, per Mark Spears of ESPN.
Meyers stood for the anthem with the support of his Miami Heat teammates, including team captain Udonis Haslem.
“[Him] being out there with us, as our brother, it’s still showing strength, it’s still showing unity, it’s still showing that we’re coming together for a common cause,” Haslem told the Associated Press. “People will question, ‘Why isn’t he doing it their way?’ Well, he’s standing by us. He’s supporting us. He’s with us.”
Andre Iguodala also respected his choice.
“On the one hand, we’re saying, ‘We want you to see things from our perspective,’” Iguodala said. “But by saying that, I also have to see things from his perspective. And I can see where he’s coming from.”
Leonard, along with his wife Ellie, pledged to donate $100,000 to a fund that will help pay fees that Floridians leaving jail must pay to vote.
“Because I’ve listened to Udonis and am constantly inspired by him, every single one of those dollars will go to Overtown and Liberty City, where he grew up,” Leonard told the AP, referring to two of Miami’s historically Black neighborhoods. “Those two parts of Miami were most heavily impacted by COVID-19 and voter suppression.”
Meyers was the second NBA player to stand for the anthem in the NBA's restart, after Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac who did so without wearing the Black Lives Matter t-shirt. Additionally, on Friday, San Antonio Spurs head coach and Air Forde graduate Gregg Popovich and assistant coach Becky Hammon stood for the anthem as well.
“I did feel a little bit of a load lifted off my shoulders when they did that,” Leonard told AP. “Each of those individuals had their own personal reasons, just as I do.”
While at Illinois, Bailey surprised Meyers four hours ahead of his home game against the Michigan Wolverines in a video that went viral. Bailey hadn't seen Meyers play in-person for over two years before that game. Later, the Big Ten Network produced a segment on the brothers.
The Trail Blazers are looking to start off their eight seeding games with two straight wins when they face the Boston Celtics Sunday.
Portland beat Memphis in an overtime thriller, 140-35 Friday in big thanks to CJ McCollum’s 33 points and the Blazers sharing the wealth on the offensive end. As a team Portland finished with 27 assists.
You can watch Sunday’s Blazers-Celtics game on NBC Sports Northwest, the Official Network of the Portland Trail Blazers. Our coverage starts at 10:00a.m with ‘Blazers Game Day’ followed by ‘Blazers Warm-up’ at 11:30a.m. and the Blazers Pregame Show at 12:00p.m.
Last Meeting: The Celtics defeated the Trail Blazers at Moda Center on Feb. 25, 118-106.
Jusuc Nurkic had 16 points (5-10 FG, 6-6 FT), six rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks in his last outing against Boston on Feb. 27, 2019. In his last four games against the Celtics, Nurkic has averaged 14.8 points and 9.5 rebounds.
CJ McCollum has scored at least 20 points in five of his last seven games against Boston. He has reached double figures in all 11 of his career games against the Celtics.
In his last six games against the Celtics, Damian Lillard has averaged 25.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 7.8 assists. He made at least two three-pointers in each of those six games.
Hassan Whiteside recorded 18 points (8-12 FG, 1-1 3-PT, 1-3 FT), 19 rebounds, three assists and one block against the Celtics on Feb. 25. • Carmelo Anthony had 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting (2-6 3-PT, 2-2 FT) to go with two rebounds, one assist and one steal against Boston on Feb. 25.
Jayson Tatum has averaged 21.4 points (51.3% FG, 57.1% 3-PT, 92.9% FT), 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists in six career games against Portland. His scoring average against the Trail Blazers is his third-highest against any opponent.
Jaylen Brown scored 24 points (8-19 FG, 3-7 3-PT, 5-5 FT) to go with seven rebounds and two assists at Portland on Feb. 25. He has scored in double figures in four of his six career games against the Trail Blazers.
The first three days of the NBA's restart have gone perfectly for the Portland Trail Blazers who are aiming to qualify for the franchise's seventh consecutive playoff appearance.
To do so, they either need to remain in the ninth seed and within four games of the eighth seed in the Western Conference, most likely Memphis, to force a play-in series of games or earn the eighth seed outright during the seeding games and then win one of the play-in games.
Heading into the restart in Orlando, the Blazers had possession of the ninth seed and sat 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth seed in the West, tied with New Orleans and Sacramento. Then, San Antonio was only 4 games behind Memphis and a 0.5 game behind Portland.
If the Blazers are tied for the ninth seed after the seeding games in terms of games back from the eighth seed, Portland would win the tiebreaker due to win percentage because they played, and by consequence won, more games before the season got suspended on March 11.
Through 72 hours of the seeding games, everything has gone according to plan for the Trail Blazers.
[Listen to the latest Talking’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon!]
Portland defeated Memphis in the first seeding game on Friday in a thrilling, 140-135 overtime victory to gain a game on the Grizzlies. The Blazers (30-37) are now 2.5 games behind Memphis (32-35) with seven games remaining for each team.
Next, Memphis plays San Antonio on Sunday, August 2nd at 1:00 p.m. PT.
Speaking of which, the San Antonio Spurs (28-36) defeated the Sacramento Kings (28-37), 129-120 on Friday which drops the Kings down the standings, where they are now a full game (1.0) behind Portland for the ninth seed.
The Kings will play the Orlando Magic on Sunday, August 2nd at 3:00 p.m. PT.
Then, the New Orleans Pelicans (28-38) have lost both of their first two seeding games, 106-104 to Utah in the first seeding game of the restart and 126-103 to the Los Angeles Clippers. The losses made New Orleans drop to 1.5 games behind Portland with one less game remaining than the Trail Blazers.
However, something else to keep in mind: New Orleans has one of the easiest 'seeding games' schedules when looking at the teams battling for the final playoff spot out West while Portland has nothing but playoff teams until ending the regular season against Brooklyn (who is technically a playoff team but is so shorthanded that should be a easy win for Portland).
The buffer from the opening three days will come in handy while Portland fights to play beyond the eight seeding games in Florida.
New Orleans now must shift their attention to Monday, August 3rd when they play the Memphis Grizzlies at 3:30 p.m. PT. It'll be the second of a back-to-back for the Grizzlies.
The Portland Trail Blazers will seek to increase their lead on the other contenders for the ninth seed on Sunday, August 2nd against the Boston Celtics at 12:30 p.m. PT here on NBC Sports Northwest.
Here are the standings as of 6:00 p.m. on Saturday with only the Lakers playing afterward.
When the NBA announced the schedules for the eight seeding games for all 22 teams returning inside the NBA bubble, the Blazers appeared to have amongst the hardest schedule with seven opponents in playoff position.
Now after one memorable, overtime victory over the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, some odds have changed and some haven't.
As for the Blazers making the postseason as the eighth seed, those odds remain +400 at Westgate Casino with Memphis remaining the favorite at -143. Interestingly, the Grizzlies' odds have increased despite the Blazers gaining a game on them. Portland is now only 2.5 games behind Memphis.
Additionally, the Blazers opened as four-point (4.0)underdogs to the Boston Celtics on Sunday morning with the line moving to 4.5 in many places, therefor the public money appears is on Boston to cover
The game also has an over/under of 228.
[Listen to the latest Talking’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon!]
One notable change with the Blazers have been their championship odds. When the schedule was released, Westgate had the Blazers odds of winning the NBA Finals at +15000 but now those odds have almost been cut in half at +8000, the same odds as OKC and better than the Pelicans' +10000 odds.
However, New Orleans is still viewed as the team most likely to make the postseason as the ninth seed during the play-in games, but its odds have decreased from +275 to +300 after a loss to Utah.
The remaining odds for the eighth seed in the West are the Sacramento Kings at (+1100, previously +1200), San Antonio (+1300, previously +5000) who defeated the Kings on Friday, the Phoenix Suns (+6000, previously +20000) and the Dallas Mavericks (+50000) who are currently 7 games ahead of the Grizzlies in the standings.
The Trail Blazers’ next opponent, the Boston Celtics, will most likely be fresher and better rested than Portland, when they meet Sunday afternoon.
The Celtics lost their opener Friday night, a controversial 119-112 defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks.
No Celtic played more minutes than Gordon Hayward’s 34 and Boston used 10 players in the game. Portland, on the other hand, used just eight players in its overtime win over Memphis and needed CJ McCollum for 46 minutes and Damian Lillard for 45.
The fewest minutes any of the five Trail Blazer starters played was 33, by Jusuf Nurkic.
Boston gave the Eastern Conference leaders a good go and had the game tied at 107 with 1:28 left when Giannis Antetokounmpo drove down the lane for a layup, but was called for a charging foul -- his sixth.
But the call was reviewed and reversed, with the Celtics’ Marcus Smart being called for a block. That meant that instead of Antetokounmpo being out of the game with six fouls and the score tied, he was still on the floor, his shot counted and the Bucks had a two-point lead.
''Quite frankly, I think we know all what that was all about. Giannis' sixth foul and they didn't want to get him out,'' Smart said.
In the teams’ only previous meeting this season, Feb. 25 in Portland, the Celtics coasted to a 118-106 win behind 30 points from Jayson Tatum.
Tatum had a miserable shooting game Friday against the Bucks, making just 2 of his 18 shots, 1 of 2 free throws and scoring 5 points.
The Celtics made just 11 of 37 from three-point range vs. Milwaukee.
Portland, which did not schedule a practice Saturday, and Boston meet Sunday at 12:30, with coverage starting with Blazer Warm-Up at 11:30, on the exclusive home of the Trail Blazers, NBC Sports Northwest.