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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.

 

Adam Silver says change to 1-16 playoff format has gotten “serious consideration”

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LOS ANGELES — Going into this season, continuing off the recent past went the Western Conference has been deeper in talent than the East., there was a lot of discussion among fans and media about switching to a 1-16 playoff format that ignores the current conference system.

The league has always balked at that — there is tradition, the conferences play an unbalanced schedule so it’s not a fair matchup now, and travel is an issue — but things have gotten more serious, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said during All-Star weekend.

“That is something that’s gotten serious attention, not just recently, but over the last few years at the league office,” Silver said in an address to the media. “I think, as I’ve said in the past, the obstacle is travel, and it’s not tradition in my mind, at least. It’s that as we’ve added an extra week to the regular season, as we’ve tried to reduce the number of back-to-backs, that we are concerned about teams crisscrossing the country in the first round, for example. We are just concerned about the overall travel that we would have in the top 16 teams.

“Having said that, you also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in The Finals, and obviously, if it’s the top team in the East and top team in the West, I’m not saying this is the case this year, but you could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the Conference Finals or somewhere else.

“So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

There is no vote scheduled, no change on the immediate horizon.

The idea of teams playing a more balanced regular season schedule, then having the best 16 teams in the playoffs, is appealing. This season, the Finals should be the Warriors and Rockets, a matchup of the two best teams. Instead, it will be the Western Conference Finals.

Fixing it is not simple. If travel is the concern — having something like the Golden State and Philadelphia in a 2-2-1-1-1 series that drags out in the first or second rounds (if the playoffs started today we would get Boston vs. Portland) — there is no easy answer, short of a Star Trek teleporter. Faster travel across the nation is not on the immediate horizon.

As Silver said, the only real answer would be to build the potential for more time into the schedule. However, the NBA is already starting in mid-October and running through June, how much longer are they really willing to go?

The obvious answer is reducing the number of games, but we know that’s not happening. Don’t expect much of a change here.

Adam Silver: Discussions about one-and-done rule ongoing, change not likely soon

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LOS ANGELES — Nobody likes the one-and-done rule. Not the NBA owners, not universities, not players, not anyone.

It’s also not likely to change soon.

The NBA and players’ union are discussing the issue — along with NCAA representatives — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. But the sides are not near a deal to make changes, whatever they are.

“In terms of the NBA, we’re conflicted, to be honest…” Silver said in his annual address to the media during All-Star weekend. “So we’ve had some meetings with the Players Association where we’ve shared data on success rates of young players coming into the league. We’ve talked a lot about youth development in terms of whether we should be getting involved in some of these young players even earlier than when they come into college.

“And from a league standpoint, on one hand, we think we have a better draft when we’ve had an opportunity to see these young players play an elite level before they come into the NBA.

“On the other hand, I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger? Are we better off bringing them into the league when they’re 18 using our G League as it was designed to be as a Development League and getting them minutes on the court there?”

Right now an NCAA commission, headed by Stanford President and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice that is looking into this issue and is expected to make recommendations this spring that the league will look at, Silver said.

He added that another consideration is jobs for veteran players — if the NBA went back to a rule that allowed the drafting of 18-year-olds, it could squeeze some veterans out of the league to create roster spots.

While the NBA appears headed eventually toward some version of the “baseball rule” — players can be drafted out of high school but if they go to college they need to stay two or three years at least — don’t expect changes soon.

“So we’re not by any means rushing through this,” Silver said. “I think this is a case where, actually, outside of the cycle of collective bargaining, we can spend more time on it with the Players Association, talking to the individual players, talking to the executive board and really trying to understand the pros and cons of potentially moving the age limit.”

 

Lakers’ Channing Frye has appendectomy in Cleveland

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lakers forward Channing Frye has undergone an appendectomy.

The team announced Saturday that its new acquisition had the laparoscopic procedure Friday night in Cleveland.

The Lakers say Frye will be re-evaluated after he returns to Los Angeles next weekend.

Frye was spending the All-Star break in Ohio with his family. He was with the Cavaliers before being traded to the Lakers on Feb. 8 along with Isaiah Thomas in exchange for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.

Frye is averaging 4.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game this season. He has appeared in one game for the Lakers.

“I’m pretty sure (now) that i got my appendix removed I’ll be able to dunk at least 3xs a month now!” Frye tweeted, with the hashtag ItWasWeighingMeDown:

 

 

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”