Jusuf Nurkic is Portland’s third most important player behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
The glaring problem in their first-round series against the Nuggets has been Nurkic’s inability to stay on the court.
In the past it used to be because of injury issues, but now it’s because of foul trouble.
“He needs to be careful on some of the ones he can avoid and understand what his foul situation is,” said Blazers head coach Terry Stotts.
In three of the five games, he’s fouled out, especially when his team needed him most.
With Game 3 hanging in the balance, Monte Morris missed a free-throw which led to Nikola Jokic corralling the rebound after multiple taps and scoring a game-clinching putback.
If Nurkic was available, maybe that wouldn't happen.
The same can be said if Nurkic didn’t foul out in Game 5 when the team went into double overtime.
“He knows how important he is,” said Nurkic. “He knows we need him on the floor as much as possible. We’re a much better team when he’s on the floor, particular against Denver. Everyone knows that.”
The numbers support it, too. When Nurkic has been on the court vs. when reserve big man Enes Kanter is on the court is night and day.
Nurkic’s importance is more evident with his net rating of 19.7, his best since 2017. He had previously posted a negative net rating in his last two playoff appearances.
He is averaging 13.2 points, 11 rebounds and 1 block so far this series.
Can Nurkic stay out of foul trouble in Game 6?
That may be the series' biggest x-factor.