Some reasons the Trail Blazers signed a point guard rather than a small forward

Some reasons the Trail Blazers signed a point guard rather than a small forward

The Trail Blazers signed a replacement player for Trevor Ariza Monday -- point guard Jaylen Adams -- and a whole lot of Portland fans seem upset about it.

Ariza, who opted out of going to Orlando for the NBA’s resumption of the season, is a small forward. Why a point guard? Who will play small forward? And what about bringing former Trail Blazers such as Allen Crabbe or Evan Turner back to fill that spot? Or what about signing some of the “name” players who are out there?

Well, I think I can help you with some answers here, based on logic and the experience of being around this franchise for a few days.

Let me make some points and you can pick out what you need. First, the small forward position:

  • The idea of Crabbe or Turner is a non-starter. Turner is still on Minnesota’s roster. He played in only 19 games this season and just one after Jan. 1.

  • Crabbe played in 37 games this season and started just once. He had a miserable season. And he's one of those players who seems to need the ball a lot, which isn't going to happen here.

  • Those “name” players people are talking about? The likes of Iman Shumpert and Gerald Green? Shumpert isn’t good enough to help and Green is hurt.

  • Veteran players who finished last season without a team would be going to Orlando in search of long-term employment -- a chance to showcase for a deal next season. That means they’re going to want playing time and if they don’t get it, that will be a problem.

  • There has never been a time I can remember where team chemistry and togetherness will be tested like it will be in Orlando. Players will have very little freedom of movement and contact with family or friends. Their stress level is likely to be off the charts. Adding players with excess baggage is not something a lot of teams will be willing to do. Not sure the Trail Blazers -- or many of the other teams in Orlando -- want to take chances with players who might be a disruption.

  • If this team gets eliminated quickly in the seeding games, which is a possibility, don’t be surprised if the team’s core players see their minutes cut down so that the coaches and front office can see the others play. They certainly wouldn’t be interested in watching over-the-hill vets looking for a contract from another team.

  • There has been an open transaction window since June 23 and if a veteran player hasn’t been signed by now, odds are he’s not valued by any of the 22 teams.

And now for Adams and the reasons for signing him:

  • Again, if the Trail Blazers can’t hang in the race for the final playoff berth, I would expect Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum’s minutes to be drastically cut -- or see them even shut down. Why risk injury if the team is out of the running? If that’s the case, help is needed at point guard.

  • I don’t expect Anfernee Simons to play 48 minutes in the absence of Dame and CJ, so Adams would be there to back up.

  • There is nothing wrong with getting an early look at one of the G-League’s best players prior to next season.

  • Adams will also help lighten the load for the starters during the three-week camp leading up to the seeding games.

And so, who do I expect to see playing small forward, with Ariza absent?:

  • Depending on matchups, I would expect Carmelo Anthony to get those minutes, alongside Zach Collins and either Jusuf Nurkic or Hassan Whiteside. I would also expect Gary Trent to get time at small forward, where he has spent time previously this season.

  • The league seems to grow more positionless each season and all sorts of big and small lineups are possible with what this team has on its roster.

  • Terry Stotts likes to stick with a tidy rotation in the postseason -- eight players, if possible. I think those eight would obviously include Lillard, McCollum, Collins, Nurkic, Whiteside, Anthony, Trent and Simons -- with Nassir Little and Mario Hezonja used for specific matchups. There is not much room there for additions unless somebody else opts out.

Portland Trail Blazers favored in play-in game versus Memphis Grizzlies

Portland Trail Blazers favored in play-in game versus Memphis Grizzlies

As the Portland Trail Blazers prepare to play their play-in game against Memphis to proceed to the Western Conference Playoffs, they are not the only ones with confidence in the Blazers. 

Betting markets also think Portland will win, as the Trail Blazers are six (6.0) point favorites against the Memphis Grizzlies in Caesars Casino & Sportsbook with a money line of -260. 

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon!]

Meanwhile, a victory by the Grizzlies would payout at odds of +220. 

Additionally, the over/under point total against Memphis is 232.5. The two teams played in the first game of the restart when the Blazers won 140-135 in overtime. However, Jaren Jackson Jr., who scored 33 points including six three-pointers against the Blazers in that contest, has been ruled out for the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee.

[RELATED]: Memphis Grizzlies F Jaren Jackson Jr. out for the season with torn meniscus

So far, the Blazers have averaged 126 points per game during the restart while the Grizzlies have averaged 112.625.

The game should be moderately fast-paced with the Grizzlies ranking sixth in the NBA in pace (103.31) and Portland ranking 13th (101.17). But, the Blazers will give up a lot of points with the league's 27th ranked defensive efficiency (114.3) while Memphis ranks middle of the pack at 15th (109.7). 

The teams switch places on the offensive end. Portland has the league's 3rd best offense (113.2) while Memphis ranks 21st at (108.7).

In short a lot of points will be put up, it'll just be a matter of how fast-paced the game is and if Memphis' offense performs well for the game to hit the over. 

The first half spread is Blazers by three (3.0) points and a first-half over/under of 116. 

Blazers 'capable of beating any team in the West' says Clyde Drexler

Blazers 'capable of beating any team in the West' says Clyde Drexler

You don't have to be a current resident of Rip City to believe in the Trail Blazers.

Clyde Drexler joined Sam Mitchell and Brian Geltzeiler on SiriusXM NBA Radio and gave his insight into the newly surging Portland squad who went 6-2 in seeding games inside the NBA bubble to claim the eighth seed.

Not least of all that the Trail Blazers can compete with anyone.

"They're capable of beating any team in the west," said Drexler. "They're a dangerous team."

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon!]

That starts with Damian Lillard, the favorite to be named the NBA Player of the Seeding Games after averaging 37.63 points and 9.63 assists per game in Orlando. In his last three games, all do-or-die scenarios, Lillard scored 51, 61 and 42 points respectively on shooting splits of 56/49/95. That is absurd. 

It doesn't end with Lillard, however.

"Damian Lillard is their best player and CJ McCollum is real close and they're a guard-oriented team," added Drexler. "Now with those big guys coming back [Jusuf] Nurkic and... [Zach] Collins, they're a different team. They really are a different team with Carmelo [Anthony] playing well and having a rejuvenation period."

The return of Jusuf Nurkic after fracturing his left tibia in March of 2019, has been a revelation. He looks better than anyone reasonably expected averaging 17.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 4.0 assists for the Trail Blazers. Before his injury, he appeared to be the Blazers' second-best player, and now it looks like he can repeat that.

Additionally, CJ McCollum has been producing in the clutch despite playing through a fracture in his lower back. 

[RELATED]: CJ McCollum, playing with fracture in lower back, hits 2 free throws to seal win

He hit two late free-throws to take a three-point lead against Dallas and made a mid-range jumper to take a four-point lead against Brooklyn. Not to be outdone, Carmelo Anthony has been balling for Portland including late three-pointers in key wins against Memphis and Houston. 

"Dame is gonna get his 25, 30 no matter what but when he focuses on creating more for the big guys and letting McCollum take some of the load so [Lillard] can stay healthy, that's when they reach their peak," explained Drexler.

Part of what has made the Lillard and McCollum pairing so successful has been the ability for them to play off one another and play the hot hand. Just last postseason, Damian Lillard deferred to a hot CJ McCollum in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals against Denver. The result? The franchise's first trip to the Western Conference Finals since 2000. 

Now to make similar noise this postseason, Lillard won't be able to do it on his own.

"Lillard can do what he wants to on the court... He can score everybody knows that but when he can get those big guys involved in the offense, help them create some buckets for the big fellas, that will make them a better defensive team and that's how they're gonna win big."

Drexler also thinks that head coach Terry Stotts can help get the best out of his players: "They're well-coached, Terry Stotts is a very good coach."

You can watch the full clip here.

Ja Morant offered sound advice on how to be more like Damian Lillard

Ja Morant offered sound advice on how to be more like Damian Lillard

Former Trail Blazers veteran Anthony Tolliver, who played in 33 games for Portland this season, has taken his talents and knowledge to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Tolliver was traded from the Blazers to Sacramento along with Kent Bazemore and two future second round picks in exchange for Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel and Caleb Swanigan in late Jan. And then on March 2, the Memphis Grizzlies announced that they had signed Tolliver to a 10-day contract. It was then on June 22nd, the Grizzlies announced that Tolliver would be heading to Orlando with them for the NBA restart.

The wily veteran discussed after Grizzlies practice Friday that he has made sure to share his knowledge of the game and having a long career in the NBA with Memphis youngsters Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

[RELATED]: Ja Morant says NBA's play-in format isn't fair ahead of game vs. Blazers 

[Listen to the Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon and special guest Kevin Love]:

And since the 13-year vet was able to see first-hand how Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard carried himself during his time in Portland, Tolliver had some advice for the Grizzlies rookie. 

I actually told Ja [Morant], I said, 'the way that Damian Lillard responds after failing -- that should be your goal and it’s not necessary that you need to go score 60.' But just responding. I think that’s what makes Damian as great as he is -- is he responds. When he fails, he responds, and so everybody is going to fail. And so, I just told Ja, I said, ‘you know that has to be in your DNA in this league. If you want to be the best guard in this league, which you have the potential to be, that has to be in your DNA and learn how to respond, and learn how to lead your team whenever they need it.' -- Grizzlies veteran wing Anthony Tolliver 

Tolliver also mentioned that Memphis’ approach for Saturday’s first play-in game against the Blazers will be a team-oriented defense on Lillard.

Lillard is averaging 51.3 points and 9.0 assists in his last three games.

The Trail Blazers and Grizzlies will battle it out at 11:30a.m. PST Saturday on ABC and then if necessary their second play-in game will tip-off at 1:30p.m. PST Sunday on ESPN.

[RELATED]: Ja Morant said NBA's play-in wasn't fair & now the Grizzlies need it

We're about to see how Morant responds to the Blazers leapfrogging the Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed.  

Hassan Whiteside playing a NSFW game in the NBA Bubble

Hassan Whiteside playing a NSFW game in the NBA Bubble

"Hello. Do you wanna play a game?"

Those are the creepy words uttered by the sinister Billy the Puppet in the horror movie franchise, Saw.

It's usually at this point in the movie that we see the disturbing life or death trap concocted by the killer known as the Jigsaw.

Sure, we thought this was all just a fictional Halloween movie tradition. However, if you ask Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside, Jigsaw's cold hand has found its way into the NBA bubble.

Whiteside posted a video on social media of himself getting ready for an ice bath and needless to say, the big guy isn't a fan.

This s*** like getting in a Jigsaw puzzle. Would you like to play a game. - Hassan Whiteside

Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

 

Even better than his pre-ice fear, was the reaction once he reluctantly got in - -- That high pitched, "oh, lord!"

Luckily for Rip City and Whiteside, this Jigsaw puzzle wasn't a life or death situation. It was just a quick rehab session. 

Whiteside better stay iced up and keep that body ready, because the Blazers are going to need him this weekend against the Grizzlies. 

Damian Lillard & Carmelo Anthony helping speed up the development of Gary Trent Jr.

Damian Lillard & Carmelo Anthony helping speed up the development of Gary Trent Jr.

With more national attention and more eyeballs on the NBA restart, it’s not just Rip City taking notice of Trail Blazers second-year player Gary Trent Jr.

Over the eight-game span of Portland’s seeding games, Trent Jr. is averaging 16.9 points on 51.6 percent shooting from the field and a whopping 50.7 percent shooting from three-point range.  

The guy was lighting up the scoreboard and making sure the Blazers’ top opponents weren’t lighting them up.

Whether it was Luka Doncic or James Harden, Trent Jr. had a tough task in defending teams' superstars, but he has shown he's up for the challenge.

Earlier this week, Trent Jr. joined former Trail Blazers Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells on their latest ‘Let’s Get Technical’ Podcast.  

Sheed’s introduction of Gary said it all:

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, it is my esteemed pleasure to introduce my nephew. I remember this young fella when he was born. He used to run around the locker room a lot with all the other kids and the families and now he’s actually playing with the same team that he was running around the locker room, tearing s*** up. So, ladies and gentlemen, will you please put your hands together for my nephew Gary Trent Jr…. A sharpshooter, man. Thanks for joining us, nephew, I appreciate it! -- Former Trail Blazer Rasheed Wallace 

Trent Jr. shared what it's been like as a young player to play alongside Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard.

Just being able to be around him every single day, just the way he carries himself, the way he works --you see it day in and day out. Like you said, he’s been on a tear, but he’s been on a tear all year, like I saw a crazy stat, they said that he is the only player since Wilt Chamberlain to have 60 [points] three times in a season… It’s crazy. He can’t be stopped. He’s locked in. We all locked in… He’s a leader. He’s the heart to the organization. He proves that every night.  -- Gary Trent Jr. on Damian Lillard

Trent Jr. added that guarding Portland's backcourt duo of Lillard and CJ McCollum has also boosted his defensive mindset and ability.  

“Guarding him and CJ McCollum every single day for the last year and a half has made me a better defender,” Trent Jr. explained. 

Remember the game against Houston, Trent Jr. was not backing down from Harden or Russell Westbrook...  

This season, Trent Jr. has discussed at length the admiration and respect that he has for Trail Blazers veteran and future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony.

On the 'Let’s Get Technical' Podcast, the 21-year-old described the vibe of the team when they first heard that Melo was coming to Rip City.

“When he was first coming to the team, the whole team was lit. We was excited, like, ‘Oh Melo’s coming to Portland. Melo coming?' So, then when he first got here, he got to playing well, he got his opportunity back and just his presence alone, you could feel it, his understanding of the game… He’s here teaching, he’s here helping, and he’s been playing amazing. He’s been helping us win games. It’s Carmelo Anthony,” Trent Jr. said. 

[Listen to the Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon and special guest Kevin Love]:

And of course, Wallace and Wells showed their love and appreciation for Gary Trent Sr. as well, as they shared a few memories with Trent Jr.

Wallace and Trent Sr. played together for Portland from 1996-98.  

“That’s my man, that’s my best friend, even still to this day.” Sheed said, while Bonzi added, “Excellent player, excellent dude, even better person.”

Wells was curious, though, how Trent Sr. could produce such a finesse guard like Gary Trent Jr.

“He kind of paved the way for guys like myself who came through the mid-major, but Gary Trent Sr. was a powerful player. Where did you get this touch?” Bonzi asked.

Gary answered this question with a smile:

“This is the funniest thing because I tell people this all the time -- he was a big man, he really wasn’t doing too much on the perimeter, don’t get me wrong – he was a good player, but he’s player devolvement was amazing... I say he was a big man who was able to create a guard… It just shows you his understanding of the game -- what you need to, what you need to be, what moves you need to do… All my moves come from him.”

Shout-out to pops! 

Trent Jr.’s moves might come from his father, but we all know that Lillard and Melo have certainly sped up the development process of the young fella.  

Check out the entire Let’s Get Technical podcast with Gary Trent Jr. right here.

Kevin Love likes Portland's chances against the Lakers

Kevin Love likes Portland's chances against the Lakers

The Blazers and Grizzlies will battle it out this weekend in a unique play-in series, to the victor goes the eight seed.

With the eight seed, either Portland or Memphis will get the reward of playing the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

Fans and experts alike have seen Portland as a legit threat to the Lakers, should they make the playoffs, and the odds are in Portland's favor. 

Portland is the current eight seed, meaning they will have to win just one game to advance. Memphis, however, will have to beat Portland twice in consecutive days to leap the Blazers. 

Can it be done? Sure. But it won't be easy.

With the Blazers having the inside track to LeBron and Co, everyone has already started to weigh in on how the Blazers-Lakers playoff series will look. 

Can Portland challenge the King? LeBron James' former teammate Kevin Love thinks so. 

On the latest edition of the Talkin' Blazers Podcast, Love gave hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon his thoughts on the potential Portland - Los Angeles matchup:

They can steal some games, especially with how Dame (Lillard) is playing. We're gonna have to see how CJ (McCollum) responds with his back because I do think they need the second primary scorer. - Kevin Love on potential Blazers - Lakers matchup 

Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

 

Frye, who teamed up with Love and James to win a title with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, also sees Portland posing a challenge. 

"If you look at this team now... in the past, you had Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu who were great defenders but were reluctant to shoot the three-ball," said Frye. "Now it's like you double-team Dame, you're throwing it to Nurk (Jusuf Nurkic) who is a very underrated passer. Then he's throwing it to Melo (Carmelo Anthony) on one side, and CJ McCollum and Gary Trent Jr. on that side."

The Blazers have plenty of weapons on the offensive side of the ball, but perhaps the biggest dark horse in a series with the Lakers would be big man Jusuf Nurkic. 
 
Nurkic is one of the best passing big men in the game, and his vision drastically changes the Blazers offense. As Frye said, unlike in years past, the Blazers can put multiple shooters on the floor, and Nurkic will know how to find them. 

Love, a gifted big-man passer in his own right, knows exactly what Nurk can do.

"If they trap that ball screen and you have Nurk making passes on that short roll and you have to slide over and play midway in-between - it's either gonna be Melo or CJ shooting that shot... those guys can heat up and light up really, really fast. Kevin Love on how Nurkic can alter a series with the Lakers. 

It's not only his passing the Blazers will need to take advantage of. They'll need to use his offensive skill in the paint as well. Attack the Lakers bigs with a healthy dose of the Bosnian Beast.

Said Frye, The Blazers are "gonna need to slow the game down and throw it to Nurk, and force-feed that big rhinoceros."

Get Nurk rolling, draw the defense in, let him kick it out to Lillard and watch the three-ball rain!
 
"I do think that Portland has the best chance, going against the Lakers" - Kevin Love.

Trail Blazers vs. Lakers: It's hard not to look ahead

Trail Blazers vs. Lakers: It's hard not to look ahead

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, but... 

The NBA has released the 2019-20 playoffs schedule and even though the Portland Trail Blazers still must either win Saturday vs. the Memphis Grizzlies, or win on Sunday if Memphis can pull out the win Saturday, it’s hard not to at least glance at the Western Conference First Round matchup.

The First Round will tip-off on Tuesday.  

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Play-in winner of Portland or Memphis (All times are PST):

  • Game 1: Tuesday, 6 p.m.
  • Game 2: Thursday, 6 p.m.
  • Game 3: Aug. 22, 5:30 p.m.
  • Game 4: Aug. 24, 6 p.m.
  • Game 5: Aug. 26, TBD
  • Game 6: Aug. 28, TBD
  • Game 7: Aug. 30, TBD

But first, the Trail Blazers and Grizzlies will battle it out at 11:30a.m. PST Saturday on ABC and then if necessary their second play-in game will be Sunday at 1:30p.m. PST on ESPN.

And hey, the Trail Blazers are heavy favorites to win Saturday’s game, so there’s no harm in looking at the First Round schedule. Right? 

According to Caesars, the Trail Blazers are -6.0 point favorites.

Just as we are looking at the first round schedule, the national pundits are already talking about a potential LeBron James and Damian Lillard series.

FSI’s Chris Broussard said he thinks Portland “has a 10 percent chance of beating the Lakers” in the first round.

The Trail Blazers definitely have the national media members on their side when it comes to Saturday’s play-in game. 

ON FS1’s Undisputed Friday, Shannon Sharpe gave his thoughts on Saturday’s matchup between the Blazers and Grizzlies:

The way Dame is playing… It’s going to take a herculean effort [from Memphis] and Ja [Morant] hasn’t shot the ball well the last three games. – Shannon Sharpe on Undisputed

While Skip Bayless mentioned that Grizzlies Ja Morant is not ready to outplay Lillard in a play-in game.

[RELATED]: Skip Bayless refuses to give Damian Lillard credit where credit is due

And just a friendly reminder, Lillard is averaging 51.3 points and 9.0 assists in his last three games.

Morant is averaging 19.0 points and 9.9 assists in the NBA restart.

[Listen to the Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon and special guest Kevin Love]:

Only thing more effective than Trail Blazers offense is their opponents' offense

Only thing more effective than Trail Blazers offense is their opponents' offense

The Trail Blazers have played some very good offense during their eight seeding games in Orlando.

Portland has shot 47.8 percent from the field over an eight-game stretch and that includes a terrific 41.4 percent from three-point range.

But to survive, the Blazers have had to shoot that well because the only thing more spectacular than their offense has been the offense of their opponents.

In the last eight games, the teams playing Portland have made 49.4 percent of their shots, including 43.3 percent of their threes.

Their defense has been worse than their offense has been good.

And how would the Trail Blazers realistically expect to advance in the playoffs while playing defense that is that ineffective?

It would be impossible.

Portland should be able to get past Memphis in the play-in series -- which is heavily weighted toward the Trail Blazers, who need to win one game before the Grizzlies beat them twice. But with that defense, nothing can be taken for granted. This has to somehow improve.

Portland has played two respectable defensive games in the bubble and one of them was against Memphis in the opener, a game the Trail Blazers spent several days preparing for.

The other good defensive effort was vs. Houston, which Portland has had good success defending in three straight games this season.

The common thread in those games is preparation -- and being able to gear a defensive game plan around stopping one player, Ja Morant for Memphis and James Harden for the Rockets,

I liked the Trail Blazer approach vs. Harden all season. Portland mixed up the defenders on him and mixed the nature of the defense, too, The Trail Blazers tried to deny Harden the ball, were aggressive on the ball when he had it, got him to give it up with double-teams and traps and played some zone defense.

I believe that sort of defensive approach gives Portland its best chance of winning, because it puts the Blazer defenders into an aggressive, attacking mode. Change the pick-and-roll coverages during games, double-team hot shooters or overplay them once in a while, mix in an aggressive zone -- anything that makes an offense hesitate or deliberate before it attacks.

Yes, they will give up some open threes playing that way. But they give up open threes in bunches all the time with their usual defense.

Things must change at the defensive end, like it or not. What's going on now isn't working. As much as anything, they have been lucky down this stretch of games that opponents have missed open shots and Damian Lillard, a basketball Superman in the bubble, has made difficult, often contested, shots.

In the Brooklyn game Thursday night, the Nets could have ended Portland’s season with a clear jumper from 22 feet, which missed.

But praying teams will miss open shots is no way to play defense. And no way to win playoff games.

Jusuf Nurkic emotional in win over Nets, finds some closure from leg injury

Jusuf Nurkic emotional in win over Nets, finds some closure from leg injury

The Trail Blazers 2019-20 season was on the line Thursday night.

And it all came down to the final shot.

Fortunately for Portland, Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert, who had already scored 37 points on 16-for-29 shooting, dribbled the clock down in the fourth quarter with the Nets trailing by one, but his jumper clanked off the back of the rim. Carmelo Anthony secured the rebound. 

And with that the Blazers won 134-133.  

That was a crazy finish, to say the least.

But before Portland’s season literally hung in the air in Orlando -- there were bodies flying.

To say the Trail Blazers left it all out on the floor seems like an understatement.

Portland’s dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic rose to the occasion; or dove to the occasion, in this case.  

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers clinch 8-seed, advance to play-in games vs. Memphis Grizzlies 

It was obvious watching their effort in the fourth quarter, that they were not ready to go home.

The Trail Blazers were a big fan of Nurkic sacrificing his body in crunch time, just as Nurkic is a “big fan” of being in Orlando.

His postgame hashtag confirmed it. 

There were two specific plays that Blazers head coach Terry Stotts pointed to as key possessions for his team Thursday. And one of them was Nurkic sprawling out on the floor, with 1:28 to go in the game, to save the ball from spinning out of bounds on the baseline after a bad pass by Joe Harris down low.

That extra effort was on display in the Blazers’ locker room postgame. 

The two things we showed in the locker room after the game was Nurk diving on the floor under two minutes, Dame diving on the floor and those are the things that we have to do to win games… and those two plays made the difference. -- Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts

Nurkic at 7’0” and 290 pounds plummeted to the floor to give the Blazers an extra possession and to prove once again that he wants to continue to play the game he loves – the game that was taken away from him following his gruesome leg injury in March of 2019 against who else, but the Brooklyn Nets.

Facing the team that ran away from Nurkic once they witnessed the status of his broken left leg in the game on Mar. 25, 2019, meant Thursday’s win wasn’t just a relief to move on and secure a play-in spot, it also took its toll on Nurk’s psyche.    

This game might be a little bit emotional for me because I got hurt against them at Moda. But, like I said... LaVert is a great player, had a great game. I think we get the best of him tonight. Give them credit, what they did, what they tried to did. But, I think we did a hell of a job to win the game… Obviously, we couldn’t get rebounds [in the] last couple of possessions, but, like I said – it wasn’t meant to be for them. We got a win, that’s all that matters. -- Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic

It closed the loop.

Nurkic also described the play of him diving on the ground for the steal from Harris, saying, “whatever it takes,” which has also been Damian Lillard’s motto through all eight of these seeding games.

[RELATED]: Unstoppable Damian Lillard provokes NSFW reaction from Nets Joe Harris 

It was with 1:12 remaining in the game when Lillard sacrificed his body, hitting the deck and snatching the ball from LeVert which led to the go-ahead 21-foot pull-up jumper from CJ McCollum to put the Blazers up 134-130.

[Listen to the Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon and special guest Kevin Love].

The bottom line is, the Blazers came up with stops when they absolutely needed them Thursday night. 

Portland’s defense has been suspect in the NBA restart; however, the Blazers’ team captain explained how coming up with timely stops meant easier buckets down the stretch.

“Once we got those stops, we was able to get to the rim, get fouled, get a few easier looks and then get ourselves back into the game, and then I think once we cut it to like, four, and we settled in, we got a stop and they were being aggressive and I just, I felt the guy chasing me over the screen and I just rose up and we got the three free throws… Once we got to that point, I was like – now it’s just a matter of who is gonna make the big plays down the stretch, who is going to do just a little bit more, and who wants it more, we was able to do that,” Lillard said.

Lillard once again led the charge Thursday night. He made 13-of-22 shots, including 8-of-14 from deep, to finish with 42 points. He also dished out 12 assists.

As for Nurkic, he finished with 22 points on 11-of-17 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds and three rebounds in 33 minutes of action.

Heading into the final seeding game, Nurkic was averaging 17.0 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 41 assists in 31.4 minutes of work.

That's a lot of minutes for a big fella just returning from a big injury. 

Nurkic mentioned after the win that he has been surprised at how good his conditioning has been in the seeding games after not having played in a game for more than 14 months.

“My shape – I was surprised by the way I was playing. My shape is surprisingly good enough to play those minutes,” Nurkic said.

Now as the No. 8 seeded Blazers prepare for Saturday's play-in game against No. 9 seed Memphis Grizzlies, the Blazers are making sure to get in some recovery time. 

“Trying get a cold tub right now," Nurkic joked. "Have ice all over me. Try to get rest as I can, that’s all I can do, right?” 

Yep, bring on the ice and then... Bring on, the Grizzlies.