Nur­kic dom­i­nant against old team

TRAIL BLAZ­ERS 122, NUGGETS 113 Den­ver’s hope for playo≠s dealt a dev­as­tat­ing blow in loss

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Kos­mider

port­land, ore.» Jusuf Nur­kic dealt a crip­pling blow to the fad­ing play­off hopes of his old team. Then he twisted the dag­ger. “I wish those guys a happy sum­mer,” Nur­kic said af­ter his ca­reer game led the Trail Blaz­ers to a 122-113 win over the Nuggets, a loss that puts Den­ver’s post­sea­son chances on life sup­port.

Nur­kic, un­sat­is­fied with a backup role in Den­ver, in Fe­bru­ary was traded to Trail Blaz­ers, along with a first-round pick, for Ma­son Plum­lee.

All Nur­kic did in his first game against his old team was score a ca­reer-high 33 points on 12-of-15 shoot­ing and grab 15 re­bounds. He col­lected six of Port­land’s 16 of­fen­sive re­bounds, set­ting a phys­i­cal tone the Nuggets were un­able to match.

“Jusuf Nur­kic kicked our (butt),” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He was very phys­i­cal. To come on the road and give up 28 sec­ond­chance points, we couldn’t re­bound all night. It’s a tough loss for us.”

The Nuggets (35-39), who have lost two straight games and four out of their last six, fell one game be­hind the Trail Blaz­ers (36-38) for the eighth and fi­nal play­off spot in the Western Con­fer­ence. Port­land also clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker with the vic­tory. With only eight games re­main­ing in the reg­u­lar sea­son, the Nuggets must fin­ish two games bet­ter than Port­land in that fi­nal stretch to make the play­offs.

The Nuggets play all but two of their last eight games on the road, while Port­land has six of its fi­nal eight at home.

Nur­kic backed down Jo­kic mid­way through the fourth quar­ter and fin­ished with a tough left-handed hook shot that put the Trail Blaz­ers up 109-100. It was all the cush­ion the red-hot Blaz­ers needed. By the end of he game, the crowd was chant­ing, “Jus-uf Nur-kic,” as the third-year cen­ter raised his hand to the crowd and asked for more.

“I ex­pected that, to be hon­est,” said Nikola Jo­kic, who had 17 points, eight re­bounds and

eight as­sists. “I knew that he was go­ing to be ag­gres­sive and try to have the best game of his life.”

Port­land did the dirty work in the third quar­ter, pulling away in a shootout be­hind Nur­kic and C.J. McCol­lum, who poured in a game-high 39 points. The Blaz­ers blew open a one-point game with an 18-9 run to end the third quar­ter.

Port­land col­lected 15 of­fen­sive re­bounds, but none seemed big­ger than the one claimed by Damian Lil­lard in the clos­ing min­utes of the third quar­ter. The ex­tra pos­ses­sion ended with a 3-pointer that put the Blaz­ers up by 10.

The Trail Blaz­ers had threat­ened to flip the game in the blink of an eye with a 10-0 run mid­way through the sec­ond quar­ter. Port­land trailed 52-46 when Nur­kic brought the home crowd alive with a driv­ing dunk. McCol­lum fol­lowed with a 3pointer, Nur­kic scored again in­side and Lil­lard buried a 3pointer. In just 90 sec­onds, Port­land had grabbed a four­point lead and ig­nited the crowd.

But sep­a­ra­tion was a rare com­mod­ity early. The Nuggets used an 8-0 run of their own to jump back in front.

Back and forth they went, a play­ground see­saw flip­ping to turbo mode.

But the Nuggets ran out of an­swers in the sec­ond half. And they are rapidly run­ning out of hope.

Trail Blaz­ers cen­ter Jusuf Nur­kic, for­merly of the Nuggets, urges the Port­land crowd to cheer louder af­ter he scored and drew a foul against Den­ver for­ward Danilo Gal­li­nari dur­ing the first half of Tuesday’s game. Port­land won 122-113. Steve Dykes, The As­so­ci­ated Press

Nuggets for­ward Nikola Jo­kic drives to the bas­ket on Trail Blaz­ers cen­ter and for­mer Den­ver team­mate Jusuf Nur­kic on Tuesday night in Port­land, Ore. Steve Dykes, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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