Rudy Gobert

Hassan Whiteside isn't one of the league's best defenders, according to NBA coaches

Hassan Whiteside isn't one of the league's best defenders, according to NBA coaches

The Trail Blazers defense has struggled at times this season, but one person has been a standout from day one: Hassan Whiteside. 

Whiteside, who came over in an offseason trade with the Miami Heat, has done an incredible job filling in for the injured Jusuf Nurkic all season.

His very first night as a Blazer was a 16 point, 19 rebound performance against the Denver Nuggets on opening night. 

From there, he just kept climbing. 

Whitside is statistically having one of the best seasons of his career, averaging 16.3 points and career-highs of 14.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game.

Whiteside is the league's second-leading rebounder, trailing only Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons (15.2 rpg).

But where he is most untouchable is defensively at the rim. 

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

Whiteside leads the entire league in blocks per game at 3.1. That is nearly a full block more than the two players tied for second, Anthony Davis and Brook Lopez (2.5 bpg). 

Whiteside has 187 blocks on the season, compared to 147 for Lopez and 138 for Davis. Both Lopez and Whiteside have played 61 games, while Davis has played 55. 

Regardless, you think the league's second-leading rebounder and leading shot-blocker would be recognized for their defensive prowess, right? You'd be wrong. 

Jon Krawczynski and Josh Robbins of The Athletic anonymously polled 33 NBA coaches, some head coaches, some assistant coaches, to get their expert opinions. 

The coaches had to vote for the first-team and second-team all-league defensive teams, while 23 of the coaches also voted on Defensive Player of the Year. 

The only rule was they had to vote for two guards, two forwards, and one center for the all-league teams. 

So, where did Whiteside fall?

He fell all the way out of the coaches consciousness. 

Whiteside did not earn first of second-team All-League Defense, he also was not named Defensive Player of Year. 

The really surprising part, however, is that Whiteside didn't even receive a single vote for any of the lists. 

How can the league's leading blocker not even receive a vote for All-League defense? 

According to the coaches' vote, Rudy Gobert was the Center on the first-team, and Bam Adebayo was the Center on the second team. Other centers receiving votes included Brook Lopez, Joel Embiid, Myles Turner, Tristan Thompson, Steven Adams, Andre Drummond, Jarrett Allen, and Domantas Sabonis. 

[READ THE ENTIRE LIST HERE]

As for the Defensive Player of the Year, the coaches picked Rudy Gobert, with Brook Lopez and Bam Adebayo being the only other centers to receive votes. 

Here is how Whiteside compares to those three centers:

HASSAN WHITESIDE: 16.3 ppg, 14.2 rpg (10.2 drpg), 3.1 bpg

RUDY GOBERT: 15.1 ppg, 13.7 rpg (10.3 drpg), 2.0  bpg

BAM ADEBAYO: 16.2 ppg, 10.5 rpg (8.0 drpg), 1.3  bpg

BROOK LOPEZ: 11.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg (3.8 drpg), 2.4  bpg

Whiteside averages more points (though that doesn't matter for defense), rebounds, and blocks than the three centers that made the list. The only category any of those centers beat Whiteside in is defensive rebounds, where Gobert averages 0.1 more per game... 0.1! 

When averaged out to a per 36, Whiteside leads in all categories.

HASSAN WHITESIDE PER 36: 18.7 ppg, 16.4 rpg (11.8 drpg), 3.5 bpg

RUDY GOBERT PER 36: 17.9 ppg, 14.5 rpg (10.2 drpg), 2.6 bpg

BAM ADEBAYO PER 36: 17.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg (8.3 drpg), 1.4 bpg

BROOK LOPEZ PER 36: 14.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg (5.1 drpg), 3.3 bpg

However, Whiteside lags behind all three of those players in overall defensive rating: Lopez (99.1), Gobert (106.8), Adebayo(107.7), Whiteside (112.2)

More telling is that his individual defense hasn't led to overall improvements in team defense.

The Bucks lead the league in defensive efficiency (101.6), Utah is 11th (108.8), and Miami is 14th (109.2). The Blazers fall near the bottom, ranked 27th (113.6).

While the Blazers' struggles on defense aren't Whiteside's fault, the numbers show he isn't necessarily helping either.

As for the coaches, they value how a player impacts and changes the team defense over a player's individual numbers. Based on individual numbers alone, Whiteside should be in the conversation with those other centers, not an afterthought.

Again, how does the league's leading shot-blocker not even receive a vote for all-league defense? 

Luckily for Whiteside, the Blazers have at least eight more games for him to put on a defensive show.

Which NBA teams have been tested for COVID-19 so far?

Which NBA teams have been tested for COVID-19 so far?

With the 2019-20 NBA season suspended for the foreseeable future and more NBA players being diagnosed with the coronavirus, the question remains -- should there be league wide testing?

Here are the teams who have had at least one player tested for COVID-19 that we know for certain:

  • Utah Jazz (two players tested positive)
  • Toronto Raptors (zero tested positive)
  • Detroit Pistons (one player tested positive)
  • Brooklyn Nets (four players tested positive)

Utah’s Rudy Gobert became the first known NBA player to be diagnosed, triggering a chain reaction for the NBA to suspend the league until further notice

Since then, Detroit and Toronto tested their players for COVID-19. 

Both the Pistons and Raptors had recently played the Jazz.

Pistons big man Christian Wood became the third NBA player to have positive COVID-19 test. Toronto had zero positive tests.

BUT…

On Tuesday, the Nets became the most recent team to have players come down with the coronavirus. Kevin Durant and three of his teammates that remain unknown at this time tested positive. 

Here's the kicker: Brooklyn has not played the Utah Jazz or Detroit Pistons and they have not played teams who have played the Jazz or Pistons since late February.

New York remains a hotbed for new COVID-19 cases, with 669 confirmed cases, according to the CDC. 

As America as a whole tries to figure out how to navigate through these times with the limited testing available, the solution for the NBA might be in what the Nets had done for their testing.

Brooklyn hired a private company to conduct the tests, which it took a few days for the results to come back, but it seems this might be the way to go for the entire league.

As of Tuesday, the Trail Blazers have not tested their players for COVID-19, according to league sources. The Trail Blazers continue to take precautions, however. Players and staff members must have their temperature taken as they enter the building. They are also not permitted to conduct any team activities, just individual workouts.

With so many unknowns out there right now, knowing which player has the virus and which player doesn’t could be extremely helpful in determining when play should begin again.

And there’s no need to publicize results and call out players that have been diagnosed, but it would be a good start for the league in making the next steps in deciding if the season can go on as scheduled. 

After Rudy Gobert's positive test, there was no choice but to halt NBA season

After Rudy Gobert's positive test, there was no choice but to halt NBA season

It instantly became inevitable.

The decision by the NBA to suspend its season was necessary after Utah’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday. There was no choice.

And that’s the way it should be. We’re facing a pandemic here. Containment of the virus is critical.

The health of our populace has to come first. And the idea, with a virus this contagious and difficult to detect at this point, of allowing thousands of people to gather in one spot for a sporting event, concert or anything else, is foolhardy and downright dangerous.

The NBA had already taken steps to keep its players safe from media members by barring media from locker rooms. Until Gobert was diagnosed Wednesday night, the league had reportedly decided to play in empty arenas for the remainder of this season.

The decisions were all designed to protect players from being infected -- but it was too little, too late. With a shortage of test kits, we probably still have no idea how many people actually are carrying the virus and don't even know it. And some of them could be NBA players. Or you and me.

But it has to be contained. And with smart decisions to curtail large crowds of people in tight spaces, it’s a very sensible step in that direction.

And in spite of warning NBA players to stop with the high fives and close social contact with each other, the players have continued to do that, as well as hug each other and oh, by the way, they are all touching the same basketball every game.

Case closed. Too many people at risk. I would think that every team that has played the Jazz in the last two weeks would be sure-fire candidates for a virus test.

There is no way of knowing whether this season will ever be finished, but I doubt it. And perhaps things like this have to happen for people to take the threat of this virus seriously. As far as this season goes, we will probably never know if the Trail Blazers would have been able to climb into that eighth playoff spot... or thank Carmelo Anthony for his contributions here at the end of a Hall of Fame career... or see what kind of ending it may have been for what could have been Damian Lillard's best season. Oh, Jusuf Nurkic will make his return to basketball next season, I presume,,, but it may not be as much fun as it would have been Sunday afternoon in Moda vs. Houston.

That's sad. But not as sad as thousands of people falling ill unnecessarily, due to this virus.

The NBA acted swiftly and correctly when faced with the diagnosis of one of its players.

And all of us will be a bit safer after this decision. That’s the bottom line.

Hassan Whiteside for Defensive Player of Year? 'Let's talk about it'

Hassan Whiteside for Defensive Player of Year? 'Let's talk about it'

The political season is upon us and the Trail Blazers’ Hassan Whiteside is all set to launch his own campaign.

The “Whiteside for Defensive Player of the Year” express is ready to leave the station and make stops all over the NBA.

And why not?

Just because his team is struggling to stop its opponents doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a very big year in the middle for Portland.

Whiteside is averaging a league-leading 3.1 blocked shots per game and the next closest to him is Brook Lopez, with 2.5.

Is Whiteside worthy of consideration for the award? Well, he certainly believes so.

“I think so. I think so,” he said Sunday night. “Gobert won it because he was leading the league in blocked shots. This is going to be my second time (leading the league). Let’s talk about it.”

Davis, Ben Simmons and Giannis Antetokounmpo have all been mentioned as candidates for this season’s award and they all play for teams with winning records. But historically, the player who leads the league in blocked shots -- particularly if it's by a wide margin -- gets major consideration.

Rim protection is still important in this era of a long-distance shooting.

The Trail Blazers have struggled due to their injuries but Whiteside has provided their only rim protection on most nights.

“The team doesn’t get the award,” he said. “It’s a player award. And as far as blocking shots, there isn’t anybody even close.”

Some might say he’s blocked so many shots because his team’s perimeter defense is porous -- but his block percentage -- the percentage of blocks based on his opportunities -- of 64.8 is one of the best in the league.

Whiteside is actually having a much better overall season than a lot of people know about. He’s flown under the radar, in part because he plays with another superstar and also due to his team’s struggles.

But he ranks 12th in ESPN’s player efficiency ratings, ahead of many of the NBA’s more well-known stars.

Will he win the DPOY? It’s probably not likely, but as he said, “let’s talk about it.”

And he certainly belongs in that conversation.

Donovan Mitchell points to Jazz-Blazers missed goaltending call as to why he is 50-50 on Coaches Challenge

Donovan Mitchell points to Jazz-Blazers missed goaltending call as to why he is 50-50 on Coaches Challenge

Friday’s Rising Stars game started out with plenty of fastbreak dunks and some crazy three-point attempts as the 2020 NBA All-Star weekend is officially underway.

Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and Pacers big man Myles Turner joined TNT’s Brian Anderson to call the game.

During the first quarter, Mitchell shared his thoughts on if he likes the new addition of the Coaches Challenge.

In explaining why he isn’t completely on board with the new addition to the game, he made sure to add that there was plenty of talk about during their controversial game against the Trail Blazers, which was exactly one week ago today.

Oh yes, Blazer fans remember.

With under 14 seconds to go and a chance to tie the game, Damian Lillard went hard to the rim.

It was clearly a goaltend on Rudy Gobert, but there was no call.

Lillard was furious, asking for a replay, but with no call on the court, no review could take place.  

And thus, Mitchell explained just that during the TNT Rising Stars broadcast.

I’m 50-50 on it. I’m not going to lie to you. I think the biggest thing with the Challenge is, I think the rule -- there’s more you can add to the rule. We had a game against Portland that got a lot of attention just because the whistle may not have been [blown]... I think you should still be able to challenge that. I think that’s something that the league may need to take a look at. -- Donovan Mitchell on Coaches Challenges

“It’s a tough job for the refs,” Mitchell added.

Of course, nothing can help change the results of that Blazers-Jazz game from last Friday; but hey, Rip City – now you know at least Mitchell is advocating for a change on national television. 

NBA’s Last Two Minutes Report for Blazers-Jazz game confirms what we all knew

NBA’s Last Two Minutes Report for Blazers-Jazz game confirms what we all knew

Not that this will make anyone feel anyone better but…

The NBA's Last Two Minutes Report is out and it affirms everything that Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard, the rest of the Blazers roster and coaching staff, and Rip City were all outraged by on Friday night.

NBA officials determined that the play that occurred with 13.5 seconds remaining in the game was in fact a defensive goaltending on Rudy Gobert.

[RELATED]: NBA should not fine Lillard, Trail Blazers for criticism of officials

The document outlines what happened on the play: 

"Gobert (UTA) makes contact with Lillard's (POR) shot attempt after it hits the backboard and still has a chance to score. Goaltending is only a reviewable matter when it is whistled on the floor by officials."

[RELATED]: Here's a possible solution to the NBA's goaltending review rule 

The L2M also stated that the foul on Gary Trent Jr. with 9.0 seconds left was the correct call. 

It’s no surprise that the report confirms that the officiating crew made a mistake, since following the game Friday night, NBA crew chief Josh Tiven was asked about this very play in a pool report.

Pool Reporter Question: Was Lillard’s shot reviewable for a goaltend, and if so, why was it not reviewed?

Tiven: "No, it was not reviewable since no goaltending call was made on the floor. Goaltending is only reviewable if we actually call it. The call needs to be made for a goaltending to be reviewable. We’ve since looked at it, via postgame video review, and unfortunately saw that we missed the play, and a goaltending violation should have been called.”

It was a no-call that Lillard was furious about, saying – “It cost us the game.”  

The Last Two Minutes report is always a tough pill to swallow the next day after such a big possession was called incorrectly. Instead of posting a L2M as almost a way of apologizing for the mistake, shouldn’t the league hold officials accountable?

Something needs to change. Such a crucial play needs to be made reviewable and it wouldn't be surprising if Friday's game between the Blazers and Jazz is made as an example of plays that will eventually get the Secaucus replay center involved. 

The Blazers are back in action Sunday night when Portland hosts the Miami Heat. Tip-off is at 6:00pm on NBCSNW. 

NBA referees need to be held publicly accountable just like players, coaches

NBA referees need to be held publicly accountable just like players, coaches

The mess that was the ending to the Trail Blazers’ loss at Utah Friday night needs another day of examination.

First, the logic behind the ability to bring replay into games is often totally flawed in the first place. In all sports.

For instance, the only way goaltending can be reviewed in the NBA is if it’s called goaltending in the first place. In other words, if officials Josh Tiven, Brian Forte and JB DeRosa had gotten Rudy Gobert’s goaltending of Damian Lillard’s layup right, it could have been reviewed -- but since they missed it, it can’t be reviewed. I mean, think about that -- if they missed the call, it can’t be reviewed but if they got the call right, it could be examined.

How screwed up is that? Well, it’s basketball’s version of the old Catch-22.

The only real answer for replay in any of the sports is the “eye in the sky” concept, where someone is watching the game and spots a missed call that could decide things and has the ability to step in and halt the game for a review.

But that’s not likely to happen anytime soon in any sport. It would be deemed too time consuming and intrusive.

The other thing that always rankles people in the NBA who play and coach the game is the relative lack of accountability of the people who make such calls.

You miss a call at the end of a game the way those three referees did Friday night, stand on the court and tell players it was “an easy call,” and then don’t even have to answer detailed questions about it on camera after a game.

The NBA allowed a pool reporter, NBC Sports Northwest’s Jamie Hudson, to ask one question (no follow up) about the play following the game and she had to submit her question in advance. By the time she got to the referees, they already had their answer prepared -- probably after consultation with their superiors. And just one question wouldn't have allowed her to ask why they didn't notice that the game clock didn't run through one possession down the stretch.

Meanwhile, players and coaches are asked to face media moments after the heat of the battle and answer countless questions and are fined if they don’t say the right things about the way the referees butchered their game.

Officials should be accountable, too. I’ve always heard that missed calls sometimes come with fines or suspensions for referees, but we don’t hear about it. They aren’t held publicly responsible, the way coaches and players are.

Referees messed up two calls at the end of an Orlando game last week and all Magic Coach Steve Clifford got for it was a $25,000 fine for calling them out for it.

That’s a one-way street the participants are tired of having to navigate and I don’t blame them.

In summary, it is correct to point out that the call didn’t take away Portland’s chances of winning the game. Lillard’s shot would have only tied the game and Utah was going to get a chance to win it with a final shot. And even then, Portland -- seemingly exhausted from having to play much of the game with just seven players -- would have had to somehow figure out a way to win the game in overtime.

And the Blazers, too, after all the controversy, still had a wide-open three-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied it.

I get all that.

But it doesn’t change the fact that a horrendous non-call altered the course of a game that could have possibly been the most incredible win in the Trail Blazers’ recent history.

Portland -- and the NBA -- deserved better.

How did Hassan Whiteside do the last time vs. Rudy Gobert? Look it up!

How did Hassan Whiteside do the last time vs. Rudy Gobert? Look it up!

Hassan Whiteside was asked Monday about how he has done against Utah’s 7-1 center, Rudy Gobert, an outstanding defender said to have a massive 7-9 wingspan, as the Trail Blazers travel to Salt Lake City this week for a Wednesday night exhibition game against the Jazz.

“Go check out my last game against him,” Whiteside said. “It was in Miami. Check it out and let me know.”

More on that later. But for right now, Whiteside says he’s finally feeling comfortable after an ankle sprain that caused him to miss 10 days of practice. And looking ahead to the Wednesday game, he’s particularly concerned about one thing:

“Conditioning,” he said, “I missed about 10 days with my ankle sprain. Get back to game shape. Feel like myself. Getting my wind back and building up that spring that gives me the dunks and the blocks. I just want to keep progressing.

“I want to get to moving even faster. I couldn’t move like I wanted to move.”

It helps that the lingering pain is gone.

“Pain free as of about two days ago.,” Whiteside said. “We had a tough practice today. We scrimmaged. A lot of live work. Like a real game. I love it.”

The Blazers don’t call a lot of set plays, but in fact use particular sets that allow players to read and react to the defense. That makes it imperative that players spend more time playing together so they can accurately read situations. And it makes it more difficult for the players who came from very structured systems.

“We’re getting better,” he said. “I’m still learning. A lot more read and react.”

Whiteside is being counted on to be an anchor for the team’s defense and at least a moderate threat to score at the basket so he will be a focal point heading into the regular season.

OK, and about that last time he met Gobert in a game… Whiteside last squared off against Gobert Dec. 2, 2018 and, as you may have guessed by now, Whiteside had a big game. He scored 23 points on 11-17 shooting, hauled in 20 rebounds and blocked three shots. Gobert had 12 points and. 18 rebounds. Miami won the game by two points. When the teams played each other again a few days later, Whiteside did not play.

Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, we get the matchup again.

There's no question anymore: Meyers Leonard knows how to impact the game

There's no question anymore: Meyers Leonard knows how to impact the game

It wasn’t that long ago when a few “boo birds” were heard throughout Moda Center when it came to Trail Blazers' backup center Meyers Leonard. In fact, it was December 1st of 2017, that those boos rang throughout, aimed at Leonard.

That was last season.

This season has been a year of change for Leonard, aka "The Hammer."

On Wednesday night, Trail Blazers fans clapped, cheered and some even gave a standing ovation as Leonard checked out of the game in the final minute of the third quarter after an impressive night against the Utah Jazz.

Leonard’s performance was very much needed too.  

Wednesday night was important for the Trail Blazers as a team.  Portland was looking to lock up the tiebreaker against the Jazz, and win an eighth straight home victory.

What made those two feats even more challenging?  

Portland was without its starting center Jusuf Nurkic who is now dealing with right knee soreness.

That gave way for Leonard.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts decided it would be best to start Leonard and match him against Jazz big man Rudy Gobert.

“I thought (Meyers) played a solid game. He was physical inside. Defensively he is one of our better talkers, communicating,” Stotts said.

Over his six and a half years in the league, Leonard had started a total of 40 games. This was his first start this season.

He made sure to make the most of it. 

“I always prepare the same. I always try to the play the same. I always come out with the same level of focus and intensity. I just want to help the team win, that’s all there is to it,” Leonard said.

“The most important thing is that we won a very important game,” Leonard added.

In this important tiebreak game that can potentially help down the road with postseason seeding, Leonard set a new season-high in scoring, in just 25 minutes of work, with 16 points. Leonard’s career-high is 24 points, which he set at Oklahoma City on April 13th of 2015.

The Blazers’ 7-footer also had six rebounds and tied a career-high with four assists. Leonard has dished out four assists 10 different times.

He also had the second-best plus/minus on the team with a +23, second only to Damian Lillard’s +29.

There was no doubt in Lillard’s mind that his teammate of the same draft class would be prepared to step up in a starting role.

“He was ready… It’s funny because today at shootaround, me and Meyers were just talking about tonight…We’ve got to be ready tonight and then we found out Nurk wasn’t playing and me and him were sitting here talking and he was like, ‘I’ll be ready’… We talked over some situations, you know, about how Gobert’s gonna be in the paint so in the pick and roll, for him to pop back for the three, be ready to shoot the ball, being active in the paint,” Lillard said.

The Trail Blazers’ locker room was buzzing about how Leonard stepped up.

Evan Turner described Leonard’s game as “amazing.” ET also discussed how, “It was almost somewhat advantageous to us because Gobert wasn’t as assertive defensively. He had to step out. Meyers stepped up and he made some shots and then the paint was open from there and the ball started swinging.”

In Leonard’s past 11 games, Portland is 8-3, while Leonard is shooting 63.8% from the field and a scorching 53% from three. Plus, he is a perfect 6-for-6 from the line over that span, averaging 6.9 points and 3.5 rebounds. 

As CJ McCollum pointed out postgame, Leonard brings a different style of play: “He stretched the floor, gave them a different look. Him and Nurk are two different types of players, but I think that him being able to shoot threes and consistently knock them down, it just gave them a look they hadn’t seen from us before.”

Leonard also echoed what Turner and McCollum had to say.

“I think my skill set counters what he’s (Gobert) good at, meaning, I’m a pretty solid screener, so if I get a good hit on their guard, guys like Dame and CJ, who are very good iso-players and are not only able to score, but also able to play-make out of that. If they get a step on their guy, now Gobert has to decide, am I gonna stay at the rim, which he’s used to, and the times that he did, I was open at the three-point line. At the times that he didn’t, I think that our guards were able to get a little more free and get some clean looks,” Leonard said.
Leonard admits that even last season, he might have gotten in his own head a little bit if he was all of sudden called up to start and was only given about a half hour notice.

It’s been no secret throughout Leonard’s career that he can let the mental part of the game takeover.

But not anymore.

“I’ve always put the work in, but there’s been a mental change and a level of confidence in my game that night in and night out I can impact the game and it feels good to know that I’m more alert defensively, my rebounding has been much better and then on the offensive end, there’s less hesitation with shooting,” Leonard said.

What about the nice ovation at the end of third quarter? Did Leonard notice that?

He sure did.

“It feels good to know that maybe some fans have, I guess, seen the work I’ve put in help me on the floor and help us win,” Leonard said.

Leonard acknowledges he can see how fans were frustrated with his game in the past, but he has put in the time and there’s no doubt a switch has been flipped.

“My play has been a bit up and down over the course of my career, but as I mentioned I do feel that, although I still have a lot of things that I can improve on, which is encouraging, I have kind of made that next step towards where I know I can be impactful every night and I’m less indecisive and just more confident in everything I’m doing out there,” Leonard said.

“I always want to win over every single fan. Is that gonna happen? No… But I am to my core a people pleaser and I’d like for everybody to like me, but honestly I do it for myself… And for the team,” Leonard said.

The fans are here for all of that!

Nurkic -- too busy for conversations -- buries Jazz in second half

Nurkic -- too busy for conversations -- buries Jazz in second half

SALT LAKE CITY – The Trail Blazers played one of their best games of the season Monday night in Vivint Smart Home Arena. And maybe that was because they played one of their best second halves of the season.

From top to bottom – the 109-104 decision over the Utah Jazz was a team win.

But check out some of these second-half contributions:

  • Jusuf Nurkic was 2-8 from the field in the first half with two rebounds. He finished the game 8-17 with nine rebounds, seven assists and six blocked shots.
  • Jake Layman played only 7:20 in the first half and scored two points. He finished with 12 points and two very big three-point field goals and played 18 minutes in the second half, including every second of the final quarter.
  • Meyers Leonard had only two first-half points but went 2-2 from three-point distance in the second half and finished with eight points.
  • The Jazz shot 45.5 percent in the first half, but just 34 percent after halftime.
  • Portland shot 44.4 percent in the first half, making just 1-of-5 from three-point range. However in the second half, the Trail Blazers shot 55.6 percent overall and made 7-of-13 from distance.

A lot of the second-half success had to be attributed to simply growing accustomed to playing against Utah’s shot-blocking demon Rudy Gobert, who is tough to handle at both ends.

On offense, the Jazz do a great job of putting Gobert’s defender in a cat-and-mouse game of either picking up a guard at the rim – allowing for a lob to Gobert or an offensive put-back – or allowing the guard to get a layup while staying with Gobert.

But Nurkic turned it around at halftime, particularly in a hot third quarter.

“I’m capable of doing that,” Nurkic said of his second-half performance. “I have really grown up since I came to Portland. I’ve learned no matter how bad things are in the first quarter or second quarter, there’s always a new quarter.

“I can make smarter decisions. I think Dame helped me out a lot.”

Nurkic got into a little tiff with Jae Crowder in the third quarter and it seemed to perk him up.

“I don’t know,” he said. “People walk into me and I’m not going to back up. He doesn’t want to fight. He just wants a conversation, I guess.”

Lately a lot of people seem to want a conversation with Nurkic, including Sacramento’s Iman Shumpert.

“I’m just a busy man, I don’t have time for it,” Nurkic said with a smile.

Coach Terry Stotts liked what he got from his big center.

“Well, the second half Nurkic was huge at both ends,” Stotts said. “He had a presence in the paint. He’s blocking shots, and obviously pick-and-rolls, finishing around the basket.”

Leonard had no hesitation to his shooting Monday and that’s been slowly vanishing from his game.

“Yeah, that’s important,” he said. “That’s something I’ve been working on a lot with the coaches in practice. Honestly, that’s another progression for me.”

There were plenty of heroes in this one. Damian Lillard had 26 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. Evan Turner played the entire fourth quarter and chalked up 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

The Blazers have no time to celebrate this one. They hopped on their charter after the game and headed for Oklahoma City, where they meet the Thunder Tuesday night.