Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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.

 

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

1 Comment

There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

Getty Images
2 Comments

What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

Getty Images
1 Comment

We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.