Nurkic once again center of attention
portland, ore.» The growing scrum of reporters closed tight around Terry Stotts on Tuesday night as the Trail Blazers coach fielded his first question about the center playing his old team.
At that moment, Jusuf Nurkic walked by the huddled mass of cameras and recorders as he made his way to the Moda Center floor to warm up.
“Hey, Jusuf, all this is because of you, man,” Stotts said. Jusuf paused and smiled. “Stop it,” he replied. The stakes were the story as the Nuggets and Trail Blazers, tied for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, prepared to match up for the fourth and final time this season, playoff hopes for both teams hanging in the balance. Nurkic meeting his former team made for a strong subplot.
Nurkic, unsatisfied with a backup role behind Nikola Jokic, was traded to Portland in February, along with with a first-round pick, for Mason Plumlee. After struggling during a brief adjustment period, the 2014 first-round pick has found his stride in Portland.
Nurkic has averaged 14 points and 10.1 rebounds in 18 games since joining the Trail Blazers, a stretch in which Portland has gone 12-6. Stotts credited Nurkic’s ability to pick up Portland’s system quickly as a big reason he has made such a quick adjustment.
Nurkic, noticeably slimmer than when he left Denver, insisted his focus wasn’t on finding revenge against Denver on Tuesday. Well, almost.
“I want to win every game, not just against them,” Nurkic said. “I want to beat them, especially, but it’s nothing emotional right now. Right now we’re winning, and you try to be positive and learn from mistakes. Right now we’re playing great basketball.”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he is glad to see Nurkic finding success in Portland.
“For us, it was a matter of we have our starting center in Nikola Jokic,” Malone said. “(Nurkic) has come in here and given them a boost, and you’re happy for him. He’s a good kid.”
Bench scoring has been an issue in the Nuggets’ last two victories, particularly in Sunday’s 115-90 loss to New Orleans.
Malone said one adjustment that needs to be made with the reserves is playing through Plumlee more and allowing the backup center to be a playmaker.
“Less pick-and-roll, less (isolation) and less one-on-one,” Malone said. “Play-calling can help with that, and then maybe mixing up our rotations where we (Jokic) with that second group as well.”