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Jusuf Nurkic wants Trail Blazers to fix ‘trash’ defense, become like Bad Boys

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — In the loaded Western Conference where the Warriors rule, center Jusuf Nurkic suggested the Portland Trail Blazers can be the Bad Boys.

Think of the Detroit Pistons of days past.

“All we can do is put all we can together and be Bad Boys,” the 7-footer known as the Bosnian Beast said. “I mean, we are Bad Boys. When you come to Portland you know you’re not going to have wins easy.”

Nurkic came to the Blazers in a trade last February and quickly developed chemistry with his teammates. He averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 20 games with the Blazers, who were 14-5 with him in the starting lineup.

His season was cut short by a non-displaced right leg fibular fracture. Now fully healed, Nurkic is again embracing his role with the Blazers. He dropped 34 pounds this summer in an effort to be quicker and more agile.

Portland finished last season at 41-41 before being eliminated by Golden State in the opening round of the playoffs. But a late-season surge after Nurkic’s arrival was encouraging.

Portland didn’t make a lot of changes in the offseason. The team remains anchored by the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McColllum. Lillard finished last season with a career-best average of 27 points per game, along with 4.8 rebounds and 5.9 assists. McCollum finished the season with a career-best 23 points per game.

Nurkic believes the key to the Blazers’ success this season is defense.

“Our defense was trash, to be honest, before,” he said. “We’re going to be better. When I came it was better and we’re going to keep improving that. It’s simple: If you want to win, you need to play defense.”

And he’s correct, last season Portland struggled at times defensively. Although the D improved after Nurkic arrived, the Blazers finished 25th in the league for average points allowed.

Here are some other things to watch for with the Blazers:

PEAK PORTLAND: Lillard revealed that he’s trying out a vegan diet, an effort that’s got him down to about 190 pounds – close to his rookie weight. The idea – much like it was with Nurkic’s weight loss – is to be a little lighter on his feet.

There’s just one problem. Wendy’s. Oh, and Five Guys. Lillard passes both of them on his way home. But the benefits outweighed the drawbacks, he said.

“Not only did I feel lighter moving around the court, but when I got winded and I got tired, it wasn’t the same. I felt stronger. I felt good on the court. It might have its issues as far as recovery once we start really getting into the season, and I’ll address that,” he said. “But it’s truly made a difference.”

LOOKING AT LEONARD: Meyers Leonard knows he didn’t do well last season so he rededicated himself to his craft over the summer, working out in Los Angeles with respected NBA trainer Drew Hanlen. Nukic’s arrival takes some of the pressure off the 7-foot-1 Leonard as he enters his sixth season with the Blazers, but he still must prove he’s a solid reserve.

“At the end of the day he’s going to have to do it on the court,” Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey said. “Because at some point – it is still about development – but it’s about production. I think Meyers knows that and his commitment in the offseason has put him in a position where he’s ready to compete.”

IMPRESSIVE ROOKIES: Both of Portland’s rookies have been drawing praise in the preseason. Portland acquired forwards Zach Collins out of Gonzaga and Caleb Swanigan out of Purdue on draft night.

Swanigan, the former Big Ten Player of the Year last season as a sophomore, was named to the NBA Summer League First Team after averaging 14.9 points and 10.4 rebounds through the first seven games.

LEARNING CURVE: For two seasons in a row, the Blazers have had second-half rallies that helped put them in the postseason. But coach Terry Stotts acknowledges that perhaps Portland missed out on the lesson the first time. “I think from my perspective last year is that we forgot how hard it is to do what we did in the second half of the season,” he said.

JERSEY PATCH: This is the first season the league will allow teams to display sponsor patches on the left shoulder of their uniforms. For example, the Cleveland Cavaliers will feature a Goodyear logo on their uniforms. But the Blazers have yet to strike an agreement. Team President and CEO Chris McGowan said Portland was very close to a deal but it fell through at the last minute.

 

Thunder pick up Paul George in his return to Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George made a winning return to Indiana, hitting the clinching free throws with 10.7 seconds left in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 100-95 victory over the Pacers on Wednesday night.

Steven Adams had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Russell Westbrook finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists in his ninth triple-double this season. The Thunder have won two straight on the road.

Victor Oladipo led the Pacers with 19 points and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 15. Indiana had a chance to tie the score after getting the ball back with 15.2 seconds left, but George got a steal then hit a couple free throws.

The Pacers’ winning streak ended at four.

But the highly anticipated matchup between George and Oladipo, the key components in last summer’s blockbuster trade, didn’t go as expected.

George was booed loudly during introductions and every time he touched the ball. Fans only cheered for George when he was called for a foul or made a mistake and it seemed to take a toll on the four-time All-Star. He finished 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, had two rebounds and four turnovers.

Oladipo, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, didn’t have a typical night either. He was 9 of 26 with five rebounds and six assists.

The result: Both teams struggled.

Indiana led 27-22 after one but gave the lead right back by allowing Oklahoma City to start the second quarter on a 9-0 spurt.

After the Pacers answered with a 9-0 run, the Thunder closed the half on a 9-3 spurt to make it 51-46.

The trend continued in the second half.

Indiana charged back to take a 63-59 lead before the Thunder used an 11-2 run to pull out to a 73-69 lead going into the fourth.

Oklahoma City extended the lead to 92-81 with 5:16 to go but only scored six points the rest of the way. That was just enough to hold on.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Oklahoma City is 4-10 on the road. … Oklahoma City got its first series split with the Pacers since 2012-13. … Oklahoma City had 17 offensive rebounds and was 13 of 29 on 3-pointers.

Pacers: Thaddeus Young had 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals. … Made 11 3s but fell to 14-3 when making 10 or more 3-pointers in a game this season. … Center Myles Turner had three blocks, his 12th game this season with three or more. … Former Colts coach Tony Dungy attended the game. He’s in town for Thursday night’s NFL game between the Colts and Broncos.

ALL-STAR DAY

The Pacers got a win before they even took the floor.

A little less than three hours before tip, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Indiana would host the 2021 All-Star Game. It will be the first time the Pacers have hosted the marquee event since 1985.

The move comes seven months after Larry Bird hand-delivered the formal proposal at the league’s New York headquarters in an IndyCar.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Faces Philadelphia on Friday, trying to improve to 17-1 in the series since moving to Oklahoma City.

Pacers: Host Detroit on Friday, seeking a seventh straight home win in the series.

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

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During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

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Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.