Switching on defense? Nice try Houston

Switching on defense? Nice try Houston

HOUSTON - It took about a quarter and a half for the Trail Blazers, who were on the second night of back-to-back, to completely take advantage of the Rockets switching defense.

It was then a night full of mismatches, easy buckets, big men pounding it down low, and Blazers’ guards exploiting the Rockets bigs on the perimeter.

It was a second half full of Blazers offense as Portland cruised to a 104-85 victory over Houston.

Portland’s big three of Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, and CJ McCollum all scored in double digits. Lillard went an efficient 8-for-10 from the field and had 22 points, while Nurkic added 22 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. McCollum scored 19 points after hitting 3-of-6 from three-point range.

“They was switching everything. They were switching all of our plays. I just think it took as a little while to figure out how to attack it… Nurk did a great job in the paint early finishing, and late.  CJ got in the paint and drew some fouls. I was able to get in to the paint score some buckets and hit a few guys for shots. I think from there we just had the remedy for switching all of our stuff.” Lillard said.

“I think early on we were just being indecisive and then towards the latter part of the game we began to get aggressive and either live with taking a jump shot or getting all the way to the hole or dropping it off to the big,” McCollum said.

For the game Portland shot 47.5% from the field and 40% from deep. Coach Stotts was pleased with his team adjustments in the second half after the first quarter’s sloppy play.

“Their switching gave us a lot of trouble early on. The first quarter and a half was kinda tough to watch…We kept it simple. Dame made a lot of good reads. CJ made some good drives…just by playing isolation. I wasn’t pretty basketball but it was good to get a win,” Stotts said.

FEED THE BIGS

Blazer fans were treated to great play around the basket in Houston.

Whether it was a Bosnian Beast dunk or a Jake Layman slashing lay-in, Portland took care of business down low. Layman went 3-of-5 from the floor for seven points.

And, with the Rockets frontcourt so focused on guards in the pick and roll, that led to Nurkic and Zach Collins getting wide open looks.

“I think when they threw the ball in the post, Nurk did a great job tonight and he got a lot of buckets down there,” Collins said.

“We just did a good job being aggressive. Nurk gave us a post presence, he finished around the basket. We tried to take advantage of certain matchups where smalls are on bigs and bigs are on smalls for us to try to get to certain spots to pull up or get to all the way to the basket,” McCollum said.

Even though, at times, it may seem like taking candy from a baby when a 7-footer matches up against 6-foot guard, but that’s not the reality and Collins was quick to remind everyone that when you post up a smaller guy, this is the NBA, and the help defense will be on its way.

“When you have a smaller guy on you, you want to go get a bucket. You’re thinking in some sense it might be easier because they’re smaller than you, but it’s tough because you know that if you make your move, help is coming so you’ve got to find that open guy… You just got to be really patient, you gotta look at all of your options and just know that scoring is not your only option,” Collins said. 

ET IN THE POST  

Time and time again this season we have seen Evan Turner take smaller guards down to the post and work his post up game. ET felt the team just needed time to figure out the Rockets’ scheme.

“It’s a second night of a back-to-back we weren’t really prepared for the switching or whatever to start off right away, but we adjusted pretty well. We found mismatches. I think we took our time to find mismatches. They did a great job of holding us with the switches, switching aggressively and we tried to, I think, we rushed a little bit and once the second half hit we kind of took time and got the ball to where we wanted to,” Turner said.

Turner had five points, seven rebounds, and two assists in Tuesday’s victory. Being point forward vs. a team that likes to switch on ball screens can be not only a benefit for Turner, but for the team when he’s getting others involved…  

“I try to get to the post, you know what I’m saying, do what anybody else would do. Or you know with our shooters, sometimes we find kick outs… I’m fairly comfortable in the post. I’m pretty comfortable with the movement and our system. In the post I feel like it’s going to be an advantage,” Turner said.

HEADING HOME HAPPY

So often the game is about taking what the defense gives you and for the Blazers in the final game of the road trip marked a night of exploiting the Rockets’ ‘D’ while also holding them to just 32.3% shooting. That’s what you call a good game on both ends.

And, as Lillard put it in the locker room postgame, coming into this road trip if someone would’ve said the Blazers would go 3-1, everyone would’ve been happy with that heading back to Portland.

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Here's where to go if you're looking to place blame for Trail Blazers' rough start

Here's where to go if you're looking to place blame for Trail Blazers' rough start

PHOENIX – The Trail Blazers have struggled through the early season and a segment of the fan base is always looking to blame someone.

And rather than simply looking at the injury list and being done with it, they’re trying to blame just about everyone but Blaze the Trail Cat.

What I’m hearing a lot is the idea that the team should have held on to Meyers Leonard, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu. And should not have “let go” of Enes Kanter and Seth Curry.

I’ve dealt with this before, but this seems like a good time to go over it again.

First, let’s differentiate between trades and free agency. Kanter and Curry were free agents last summer and it wasn't a matter of the team "letting them go." The Trail Blazers knew they would be priced out of the market for Curry, who had a very good season with Portland. He eventually re-signed with Dallas, where he played before he became a Trail Blazer, for $32 million over four years. That was out of Portland’s reach, since all it could offer was the taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.7 million.

Kanter was given the first call by Neil Olshey last summer at the onset of free agency and he vacillated on his decision to take the TMLE. So, Portland went to its second choice, Rodney Hood, who had been off to a career year before suffering a season-ending injury. A good move, obviously … and Kanter ended up signing with Boston for about a million bucks less than he would have made in Portland.

Now, let’s get to the other three players. Harkless and Leonard went to Miami in a deal for Hassan Whiteside, who is in the final season of his contract. Whiteside was brought in to give the Trail Blazers a replacement at center for Jusuf Nurkic, who isn’t expected back until sometime in the new year. Bazemore, also on an expiring deal, came in a trade with Atlanta for Evan Turner.

Both those deals allowed Portland to preserve cap space for one more big trade – hopefully for a major star making a lot of money with multiple years left on his deal. Since the Blazers have had little luck luring free agents to town, the idea of making a deal for a big-time player who would be under their contractual control for a while, is the next best thing.

And it's also a big (and expensive) commitment to building a team that can compete for a championship.

OK, that said, those trades have turned out just fine for Portland and I’m tired of hearing how much the departed players have been missed. I’m not knocking them in any way, but the fact is, what came in return has been very good for this team.

Whiteside has averaged 16.2 points. 12.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 2.4 blocked shots per game this season. Leonard, Harkless and Aminu (who is now hurt) have COMBINED for 15.9 points, 12.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 blocks per game this season.

And oh yes, a player by the name of Carmelo Anthony was added to the mix a while back – amidst all sorts of pleas from fans begging them not to do it because of fears about the bad raps that have dogged Anthony,

But so far, Anthony has been a solid player who has blended seamlessly with his new teammates. And, of course, he’s given the team 16.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.

So, this all leads back to the original point. If you have trouble figuring out what’s wrong with your Trail Blazers, look no further than that injury report – which features Zach Collins, Hood and Nurkic.

That’s this team’s entire starting front court. And they are most certainly missed more than the players who were traded away.

Get ready for 'The Double Beast’ when Jusuf Nurkic returns

Get ready for 'The Double Beast’ when Jusuf Nurkic returns

Rip City has missed having ‘Nurk Fever’ more than ever this season. 

As Jusuf Nurkic continues to rehab his left leg, this week, fans have been treated to videos of Nurk working out.

Saturday, Nurkic spoke with the media for the first time this season since Blazers Media Day at the end of September.

“I’m right where I want to be... Pain-free,” Nurkic told reporters.

The Blazers 7-footer says he feels that he is about “60 percent.”

After talking with the media in Phoenix following Saturday's practice, it was clear that 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

Nurk and the Blazers have not established a timeline for his return. Previous reports of a return around the All-Star Break were not confirmed by the Trail Blazers big.

It’s all about being smart at this point.   

“Trying to listen to my team and doctors, and everybody around me to do the right way… I just need to be smart with my decisions,” Nurkic said.  

As the Bosnian Beast gave updates to reporters, he stopped himself to make sure he took time to thank all the Trail Blazers fans who have been supporting him during his recovery.

“Thanks everybody who did the support of my injury. I mean, with the Billboard and stuff, it mean a lot to me. Knowing the people want to see my practice and stuff."

Nurkic added, “I want to be healthy when I’m done playing basketball.”

But the 25-year-old said he still has a lot of “check marks” to get to before he can get back on the court.

“It’s important for me to be really smart with what I’m doing,” Nurkic said.

For the big fella it’s all about perspective right now:  

Mentally is going to be okay. I’ve been through a lot, like all the people in the world going through some hard times, but I feel like it’s nothing compared to the people on the street, compared to the people who don’t have no money to live.  

As Nurk takes it “day-by-day,” the Blazers are looking at a 10-16 record, and even if he is making sure not to rush his rehab, that doesn’t mean he isn’t extremely eager to get back out there.

I feel hungry… When I’m with the team I feel even more hungry. I lost some weight and I feel great, more explosive, more quick. I just feel like when the day comes, I’m going to be the double beast.

Nurkic has lost about 10 pounds as he works to be 'The Double Beast.' Envisioning a quicker more agile Bosnian Beast will make fans even more eager to see his return. 

Nurkic recognizes that fans are not happy with the Blazers' start of this season. He wants everyone to know that he has to do what is best for everybody involved. 

“I understand people are disappointed, but injuries suck, man, and they’re part of the job, part of the life, and I think for me I need to do whatever is best for me and for the team.”

Here's your ultimate Jusuf Nurkic workout highlight

Here's your ultimate Jusuf Nurkic workout highlight

Jusuf Nurkic continued to show how his rehabilitation is going Saturday in Phoenix. 

Nurkic going through drills is yet another evolution in his rehabilitation, this coming days after he was seen running stairs at Pepsi Center after Trail Blazers shootaround. 

It's a welcomed sight, to say the least. 

While there are reports that Nurkic is angling to return around the All-Star break, the Bosnian Beast isn't putting a timetable on it. 

"I need to do what's best for me," he said. Nurkic mentioned that not only is he going to come back healthier, but also a better player as a whole.  

Check out the highlight video above to see how Nurkic's workout went!

Nurkic, covered in sweat after a workout, talks about his progress

Nurkic, covered in sweat after a workout, talks about his progress

PHOENIX – Apparently, this has been going on for a while now.

Jusuf Nurkic was on the floor of the practice gym in Talking Stick Resort Arena Saturday afternoon, spinning, jab-stepping, jumping, dribbling, shooting and looking for all the world like a man healthy enough to play NBA basketball.

Which, of course, he isn’t. Nurkic, after a workout that left him drenched in sweat, pronounced himself “right where I want to be” and “pain-free.”

Pressed, he put his readiness at “60 percent.” Nurkic has been sidelined since last March 25 ,after suffering compound fractures in his left tibia and fibula that required surgery.

It was originally estimated he could be out of action for a year and then the talk was that he could be ready to return to a Trail Blazer uniform by the All-Star break in February. But he raised the hopes of Portland fans when he was shown on video shooting free throws prior to Tuesday’s game in Moda vs. the Knicks and then shown again on video running the stairs in Denver’s Pepsi Center before Thursday’s game with the Nuggets.

The team made him available for interviews after the Blazers’ practice Saturday afternoon and seemingly showcased his workout for the media – because we see only what they want us to see of their practices.

The franchise has refused to put a timetable on his return to active duty and Nurkic dodged all those questions, as did his coach. But it was made clear that he has been doing more work on the court than previously thought.

“He’s been doing a lot of stuff,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “This is the first time you’ve gotten to see it. He’s been doing things similar to this. Today wasn’t anything new from our standpoint. You just haven’t seen it.

“I think we’re all encouraged by the progress he’s made.”

And the 7-foot center made it a point that every day is not like the heavy workout we saw Saturday.

“If I was doing this every day, I probably would have played already,” he said.

But during an interview that stretched longer than what the team may have expected, Nurkic refused to dig deeply into what he’s been doing and what his schedule will be, moving forward.

“I can’t tell you everything,” he said with a smile.

 

Listen to this week’s Talkin’ Blazers podcast here: