There was probably a handful of fans that missed the announcement Friday evening that the Trail Blazers’ pride and joy Jusuf Nurkic had sustained a non-displaced leg fracture in the end of Thursday’s game against the Rockets, and instead woke up to the news on Saturday thinking it was an April Fool’s joke done in poor taste. Albeit an elaborate, refined ruse that a trained April Fool’s sadist like myself would’ve found delightful, it was most certainly not a joke. Nurkic would not be playing for the rest of the regular season, and would be reevaluated in two weeks to see if he could return in a potential playoff appearance. Any way you slice it, losing the Bosnian Beast in the final stretch to keep their playoff slot is a major hit for the Blazers.
Maintaining an air of optimism is gonna be difficult considering everything that Nurkic has brought to the table since he joined the squad. Replacing his points, rebounds, fast hands, and blocks is gonna be a tall order. Couple that with the fact that Ed Davis is still hobbled and unable to play makes Nurkic’s void sting even more. Players with larger statures like Noah Vonleh, Al-Farouq Aminu, and (clears throat) Meyers Leonard (sighs) are gonna have to up their game on all fronts to heal the gaping wound. The big boys are also gonna have to stay out of foul trouble since there’s virtually nobody to back them up.
Another thing the Blazers are gonna have to do in order to survive the next seven games is shoot completely lights out. Without Nurkic’s rebounding prowess, they can’t run the risk of missing anything. They need to move the ball on offense and take the wise, open shots.
Last night the Blazers needed to suppress the panic the best they could because the Phoenix Suns have had their number in the past. This season the Blazers are two and one in their series against the Suns, so it would seem we have them figured out this year.
After a stirring offensive performance, the Blazers leave the Suns crestfallen and win 130-117 before heading out on a two game road trip.
(Photos borrowed from trailblazers.com)
From the start of the contest the Blazers looked confident. With five minutes gone their field goal percentage was a hot 71 percent. The Suns’ percentage was a dismal 35 percent. The Blazers were doing a solid job taking advantage of the Suns' missed shots and pulling lots of defensive rebounds. By the end of the quarter, 12 of their 15 rebounds had been plucked down on the defensive side. Noah Vonleh was looking strong with seven of those boards and six points. The Blazers took a 16-point lead into the second quarter.
Evan Turner started the second quarter scoring or assisting with the Blazers’ first 11 points. Since coming back from his broken hand, Turner hasn’t been a big presence on the court. It was great seeing him wake up a little in the Blazers’ time of need.
The Blazers held their lead throughout the first half, pumping it up to 25 at one point. The Suns gained some ground before the half was over and brought it down to 10.
The second half started with the Jumbo-tron playing the final seconds of the Oregon Ducks’ Final Four game. While the crowd ooh-ed and ahh-ed at what was happening in that game, Damian Lillard tossed up two three point shots and got the Blazers off right. After the Ducks lost, when everyone checked back in to the game they paid to see, the Blazers were up 13.
The Suns’ center Alex Len did his part to try and get Phoenix into the game, scoring 12 points in the third quarter. It was a valiant effort, but it didn’t stop the Blazers from taking a ten point lead into the final quarter. Dame went wild putting up 17 points.
The Blazers confidently sailed through the fourth giving the Suns zero opportunities to dig themselves out. When the final horn sounded, the home team had an impressive six players in the points column with double digits. Dame and CJ McCollum were at the top of that list with 31 and 29, respectively.
In the post game press conference, Coach Terry Stotts reflected on the Blazers evening out their record to .500.
“I’m glad that we did. It’s been a long season, a long journey, but we’re not done yet. To battle back and be in the eighth spot was an accomplishment. But again, our work’s not done.”