Trail Blazers lose: James Harden always plays as if he has a cheat code

Trail Blazers lose: James Harden always plays as if he has a cheat code

James Harden went out and did what he does Monday night in Houston. He didn’t even do it as well or as often as he usually does.

The guy averages 39.5 points, 14.6 three-point attempts and 14.8 free-throw attempts per game. And he fell short of all those things.

“If you would have told me that he would shoot 10 threes and 10 free throws, I would probably take that all night,” Trail Blazer Coach Terry Stotts said. “For him, he had a sub-par night.”

But par for Harden is different than other players. He’s a scoring and foul-drawing machine. Along the way he has his tricks – for opponents and referees – and pulled some of them off against the Trail Blazers as his Rockets dumped Portland 132-108.

Everyone knows about his step-back three-point shots. And the way he throws a leg out on that shot as he’s falling backwards, very often drawing fouls on unsuspecting defenders, even though officials know he does that every night. He travels more than most players, too, and gets away with it most of the time.

All in all, he’s probably the hardest-to-watch great player I’ve ever seen. Because it's as if he has a cheat code.

For the record, he finished with 27 points, five rebounds and five assists, hitting five of his 10 threes. For Harden, that’s practically a night off, rather than an off-night.

But his skilled ball handling and clever moves combined with his ability to fool referees make him an almost impossible player to defend.

“He gets calls every night,” CJ McCollum said. “A lot of them are fouls. He knows how to play the game. He’s aggressive, he’s smart. Got to give him credit. Averaging 20 points a game in this league is tough, Averaging 30 is great. Averaging 35 or 40 is next-level great.”

Lillard talked about the hazards of trying to defend Harden when he’s getting the calls he often gets.

“It’s hard to defend,” Lillard said, “When he’s driving to the basket, you don’t want to touch him. When he’s rising up for a three, you don’t want to get too close to him because he’s kicking his legs out and throwing his arms up on his follow-through, through your arms. If you get that type of whistle, it’s tough to defend.”

What made Harden doubly tough on Monday was his passing skills. He drew players to him and often dished off to teammates for easy baskets.

“He did what he normally does,” Rodney Hood said. “And he got his teammates involved. He wasn’t as aggressive as he’s been in the past couple games, but he got everyone else involved and I think that’s what got them going.”

And so it goes. Playing the Rockets, especially in the regular season, is going to be a tough task. In the playoffs, when the officiating is usually better and the pressure is heavier, things have always changed for Houston and Harden.

But this year, time will tell.

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:

 

     

 

Nassir Little suffers back spasms during warm-ups in Denver

Nassir Little suffers back spasms during warm-ups in Denver

DENVER – It wasn’t until the third quarter when Trail Blazers PR announced that rookie forward Nassir Little would not play in Thursday’s game versus the Nuggets due to back spasms.

Through the first three quarters, it looked as though Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was electing to give Mario Hezonja the minutes Little had been taking up.

But, after the Blazers’ 114-99 loss to the Nuggets, Little explained how the injury came about and how ultimately he ended up not playing:

It’s been tight. Just warming up, I just jumped and it was just off. -- Trail Blazers forward Nassir Little 

Little has been dealing with a tight back for the past week, but Thursday during warm-ups was the last straw.

“I told the trainers during the game—no way,” Little said of being able to play against Denver.

Little was grimacing as he leaned down to put on his socks and shoes in the locker room postgame.

In 18 games played this season, he is averaging 4.6 points and 3.4 rebounds in 15 minutes per game.

The Trail Blazers forward said his pain level was “at a nine” when his back flared up initially as he went up for a lay-in. “It was immediate.”

Little sounded optimistic though saying he hopes not to miss too much time. The 19-year-old will begin treatment Friday morning and NBCSNW will follow-up with the Trail Blazers rookie throughout the weekend to see what his status will ultimately be for Monday night's game vs. the Phoenix Suns.