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Three Things to Know: Jusuf Nurkic’s injury devastating, for him and Trail Blazers

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Jusuf Nurkic’s injury devastating, both for him and the Trail Blazers. This was just stomach turning.

With 2:22 in the second overtime between Portland and Brooklyn, Trail Blazers’ big man Jusuf Nurkic went up for an offensive rebound and when he came down he landed awkwardly, his left leg bending in ways legs simply should not ever bend. (We are not running the video in this story, if you want to see it check out our original post on the injury, but be warned this is one you may want to avoid.)

Nurkic has suffered compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula, which will require surgery and not only end this season but also the recovery will bleed into next season as well (there is no timeline for something like this, but as Jeff Stotts of the injury blog In Street Clothes noted, the only thing like this is Paul George‘s Team USA injury, and it took him eight months to get back on the court and much longer to regain his form).

This is devastating for Nurkic personally. The Bosnian big man signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension last summer, then came back better and more motivated. He has averaged a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting, his PER of 23.1, true shooting percentage of 57, value over replacement player of 3.5, and other advanced stats are all career bests. He was the anchor in the middle of the Portland defense, using his big body to cut off drives on pick-and-rolls. He was playing at an All-Star level (it’s just making that team in the West is like climbing the Matterhorn because of all the talent in the conference, including at center).

This is also devastating for the Trail Blazers — a year after getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round by New Orleans, there has been real optimism this year’s Blazers were better built to make a postseason run. Nurkic’s improved play was at the heart of that optimism.

On offense, he is the primary screen setter for Damian Lillard — the Lillard/Nurkic pairing is the second most used pick-and-roll combination in the league via NBA tracking data (D’Angelo Russell/Jarrett Allen of Brooklyn is first). Nurkic not only sets a big, solid screen, but he’s also become much better as a playmaker, meaning when teams inevitably trap Lillard to get the ball out of his hands he can dump it off to the rolling Nurkic and the big man can find the open shooter or score himself. Portland’s offense is 5.5 points per 100 possessions better this season than a season ago and Nurkic is at the heart of that improvement.

Defensively, Nurkic drops back off picks and does a good job using his size to clog the lane. When opponents try to drive on him, he’s adept at blocking and altering shots.

The problem is the drop off in talent after Nurkic at the center spot for Portland. Enes Kanter was brought in and has played the most backup minutes recently, and he is a good scorer on offense but not the playmaker that Nurkic is. However, the bigger issue with Kanter (and Meyers Leonard) is he struggles mightily to defend the pick-and-roll, something any opponent will attack in the playoffs. We may see more Zach Collins thrust into the backup five spot (he has played more four lately), he’s more mobile as a defender and can both roll or pick-and-pop on offense, but there’s a reason he’s fallen back in the Portland rotation, he is young and inconsistent.

Portland clinched a playoff spot by still getting the win over Brooklyn on Monday night, however, what seed they can hold on to is up in the air. Portland is currently the four seed in the West, 2.5 games up on the Jazz and Clippers (the Blazers are three games up in the loss column on both). Without Nurkic and C.J. McCollum as they head out on a four-game road trip (McCollum could be out much if not all of the rest of the regular season with a knee injury), the Blazers could stumble and lose out on home court in the first round.

Wherever they start the playoffs, advancing past that just got a whole lot tougher on Monday night.

2) Devin Booker puts on a show scoring 59, but Jazz dunk their way to win anyway. There were two very different offensive shows going on in Salt Lake City on Monday night. On one end, Devin Booker was just hitting everything on his way to 59 points.

On the other end of the court, the Jazz exploited the Suns’ nonexistent rim protection to put on their own dunk contest — and in the process Rudy Gobert set the NBA’s single-season record for dunks at 270 (he’s now at 275 after this game).

Utah got the win handily, 125-92. They even fouled Booker at the end of the game so he couldn’t get to 60 points (Jimmer Fredette helped with that, the new Suns’ guard jacked up some shots even when Booker was put back in the game late just to get to 60).

3) Oklahoma City’s struggles continue, this time in a loss to Memphis. A couple of months ago, Oklahoma City looked like the second-best team in the Western Conference, a team poised to make a deep playoff run — they have two elite players in Paul George (an MVP candidate) and Russell Westbrook, a stout defense led by Steven Adams, and they create matchup problems.

Or they used to. OKC has lost 5-of-6, the latest to Memphis — without Mike Conley — on Monday night. The Thunder have fallen all the way back to the eight seed (tied with San Antonio for 7/8) and could well get their nightmare scenario of facing Golden State in the first round.

The problem has been on the offensive end, where Paul George has gone into a slump, Westbrook is still putting up numbers but is not efficient, and at least Dennis Schroder seems to have gotten out of his funk. That was the case in Memphis: George had 30 points but needed 29 shots, Westbrook had 16 points on 20 shots, and Schroder was the man with 25 points on 14 shots.

Meanwhile, the star of the game was Bruno Caboclo with a career-high 24-points.

This is the second season is a row George has struggled after the All-Star break. Last season he shot 38.5 percent overall (32.4 percent from three) after the break. This season it’s 38.6 percent shooting overall and 32.9 percent from three.

George and the Thunder have eight games to get this figured out or it may not matter who OKC faces in the first round of the playoffs.

Damian Lillard, tired of OKC’s talk/antics, called his shot a day before

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Oklahoma City is brash, a reflection of their best players. Russell Westbrook was talking throughout the series against Portland because, well, that’s Westbrook. Dennis Schroder was pointing at his watch — imitating Lillard time — as the Thunder won Game 3. Paul George threw down a dunk (just after the buzzer expired) rather than dribble out the end of the Thunder win.

Damian Lillard saw it all.

Inside he was fuming, in a rage that continues as he waved goodbye to the Thunder after hitting a historic jumper. He told Jason Quick of The Athletic what went through his mind as the shot fell through the net.

“Yeah,” Lillard said he thought in the moment. “What you all have to say now?”

Wednesday, Lillard posted this to Instagram.

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On to the next…

A post shared by Damian Lillard (@damianlillard) on

Lillard was boiling over the night before the final game of this series, at his home in Portland, as Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports details in a must-read piece on Lillard dropping the mic on OKC.

And what came out of Westbrook’s mouth during a few of his post-basket outbursts was the B-word, something most players wouldn’t dismiss without an altercation.

“The way I see it, it’s basketball,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “I know I ain’t no b—–ass mother——; so it doesn’t bother me. If they think I am, then we can take it off the court and find out for sure.

“I’m not out here to prove to these dudes that I’m the hardest mother—— in the league because they cussed at me on the court. But they know where I’m from and what I’m about. This Oakland. But I don’t take s— personal. My goal is to get the win.”

Lillard won. He outplayed Westbrook.

Coach Terry Stotts had pulled Lillard off the court before the end of Game 4, a 13-point Portland win on the road, and Lillard said that was probably good because if he had been on the court he might have jacked up a 30-footer at the buzzer to send a message. Instead, he waited a game. And Monday night Lillard said this:

“I’m going to get the last laugh,” he said. “I promise you that.”

Drop. The. Mic.

Paul George says he will deal with shoulder issues this summer, come back healthy

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Paul George averaged 28.6 points per game against Portland in the first round, but he wasn’t his mid-season efficient self, shooting 31.9 percent from three, where he took 46.5 percent of his attempts. George tried to make up for it by attacking the rim and drawing fouls, and he averaged almost 10 shots from the charity stripe a game (9.8, which boosted his true shooting percentage to an impressive 58.3).

OKC needed more of George and less of Russell Westbrook settling for jumpers, but George’s jump shot just was not going down at the rate it did the first half of the season.

How much of that was his shoulder problems? George admitted that four days before the playoffs started he couldn’t lift his hand over his head he was in so much pain. George said it wasn’t an issue in the playoffs, but nobody really believed him.

George said postgame he would get his shoulder healthy this summer, but dodged the surgery question, via Royce Young of ESPN.

Whatever he does — rest, therapy, surgery, going to Lourdes and getting water on it — George needs to get healthy because his efficiency is critical if Oklahoma City is going to get out of the first round of the playoffs. It would help if Sam Presti and company can add some shooting around him and Russell Westbrook (easier said than done with their tight cap situation).

Is D’Angelo Russell worth a $27 million max contract? Will he get it?

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D'Angelo Russell had a breakthrough year for the Brooklyn Nets.

He was an All-Star in his fourth NBA season, averaging 21.1 points and seven assists per game, and a lot of the jump came because his shooting improved — 36.9 percent from three, and a true shooting percentage of 53.3 that’s close to the league average. His hitting floaters and jumpers opened up the rest of this game, and his confidence grew as a leader. He pushed the Nets to the playoffs, where he and his team played tough but fell short against the more talented 76ers. Russell struggled to a 3-of-16 night in the closeout game Tuesday, it was a learning experience.

This summer Russell is a restricted free agent. Brooklyn wants to keep him… but for $27 million? That’s his starting salary at the max. Brian Lewis of the New York Post said that’s what Russell wants.

But he’s got a $21.1 million cap hold, and could get a max offer from a point guard-hungry team. That would be $27 million, which league sources have intimated is what Russell wants. The Nets haven’t shown themselves to being convinced he’s worth that much, and could well let the market decide.

The Nets have the right to match any offer, but would they go to the max to do it? League sources told me most teams see Russell as a step below max, however, if a team is trying to poach a player via restricted free agency they have to overpay to get the team with his rights to back off and not match. Ultimately, that means his agents (Austin Brown and Aaron Mintz) finding a team willing to pay the price to nab him. Depending upon how the draft lottery and the rest of free agency goes, that team may be out there.

Sean Marks and his Nets are going to have a very busy summer and Brooklyn — while it loves the team it built — may not look the same at all next season.

Kelli Tennant, Luke Walton’s accuser: “I am no longer comfortable staying silent”

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Kelli Tennant, the former reporter for the Lakers’ regional broadcast network who has stepped forward to accuse current Sacramento Kings and former Los Angeles Lakers’ coach Luke Walton of sexual assault, stepped in front of the cameras on Tuesday and stated her case.

Tennant has filed a civil suit against Walton and she, along with her attorney, conducted a press conference Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Tennent said the incident happened before Walton was the Lakers’ coach, back in 2016 when he was an assistant with the Golden State Warriors. She explained why it was years before she came forward, as reported by NBC 4 in Los Angeles.

“I was 25 when this first happened. As a young woman who had only been in this job for less than a year, who was incredibly grateful for where I was and had worked incredibly hard to get to that position, I was scared and I felt coming forward would jeopardize every aspect of my life,” she said.

It is not uncommon for sexual assault victims to feel powerless and not come forward for years, particularly in high-profile cases where they know the public nature and the backlash that will follow — regardless of truth — from the accusations.

“I am no longer comfortable staying silent… No woman should ever be made to feel like a victim.”

Tennant also described the alleged incident that she says took place in a Santa Monica hotel room. She said they had a professional relationship and she had met him to discuss him writing the forward to a book she was writing.

“Out of nowhere, he got on top of me and pinned me down to the bed and held my arms down, with all his weight. He kissed my neck and my face and my chest. And as I kept asking him to please stop and to get off, he laughed at me.

“I thought he was going to rape me. I was finally able to get up after what felt like forever. And I immediately jumped up to leave the room, and he came around and grabbed me from behind and again held my arms down so I could not move. And started kissing my neck again. I kept begging him to please let go and to please stop. And he continued to laugh in my ear. He finally let me go, and I got out of the room.”

Walton, through his attorney Mark Baute, has denied these allegations.

“Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations. The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”

The NBA, Sacramento Kings, and Golden State Warriors all say they are investigating the allegations. Sources say the Kings and league knew nothing about the incident prior to the lawsuit being filed, and there was no record of it being brought to the Santa Monica Police Department.

The Lakers released this comment: “This alleged incident took place before Luke Walton was the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers. If it had been, we would have immediately commenced an investigation and notified the NBA. Since Luke Walton is now under contract to another team, we will have no further comment.”