Jusuf Nurkic reminded everyone just how good he is against Toronto, but the Lillard-less Portland Trail Blazers fell short in their second scrimmage game.
In their second scrimmage game, the Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Toronto Raptors, 110-104.
The Blazers, who were missing Damian Lillard through a foot problem, seemed to ramp up the intensity on both ends of the court, as they look to get game-ready for next week.
Here are three takeaways I took from the matchup.
(Point) Jusuf Nurkic looks new and improved
Jusuf Nurkic had himself a GAME, and looked better than ever in just his second game back from injury.
I was anticipating a slightly cautious Nurkic in his return, in these scrimmages at the very least. The Bosnian was far from cautious.
17 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 1 three-pointer and few second quarter handbags with Serge Ibaka. Aside from a few wayward layups, and a bit more time out on the perimeter than usual, it was a vintage Nurkic performance against the Raptors tonight.
The Ibaka altercation was perhaps the best moment of the game too. The coming-together was harmless, but the fire afterwards was very real. The Blazers have missed the grit that Nurkic brings to the lineup, and it was on full display here.
Directly after, Nurk backed down Ibaka and hit a little baby hook over his head. Next possession: Nurkic blocked a layup, dove to the floor, knocked the ball off of Ibaka and gave the Blazers possession, causing Portland’s bench to surround Nurk, hyping the big man up. Nurk wasn’t done, as two possessions later, the center hit a 3, cementing the pre-bubble hype that he was now an able shooter from deep.
We saw some point Nurkic too, as he picked up where he left off in terms of creativity. Nurk is so, so effective running the offense at the top of the key, waiting patiently for someone to cut. His passing touch is still there, and it adds so many layers to the way the Blazers score. They looked decent today without Damian Lillard. There’s lots to look forward to with Jusuf Nurkic back on the floor.
CJ’s creativity is as important as his scoring for this Portland Trail Blazers team
As he usually does when Lillard is out, CJ McCollum did a little bit of everything at the point guard position.
McCollum recorded 21 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals in 24 minutes of action for the Blazers, on an impressive 7-12 shooting (including this ridiculous move).
But what I liked about CJ’s performance wasn’t his scoring, but his passing, something which is critical for Portland’s success. We all know CJ can create his own shot, but opening up the court for his teammates is something he has to do well when Lillard isn’t out there.
Back-up guards Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr aren’t the most creative of players; both excel in scoring the ball instead. When Dame isn’t out there to share the ball, the Portland Trail Blazers usually struggle for open looks, and the offense gets extremely stagnant.
Nurkic’s return will help this, but CJ must embrace the role of point guard when Lillard isn’t on the floor, and take that responsibility onto his shoulders.
Nurkic and Whiteside on the same court. How was it?
A conversation that is dividing Portland Trail Blazers Twitter. Hassan Whiteside off the bench, or Jusuf Nurkic at the power forward position?
They started together today, and it was… okay? The two big men played much of the first quarter together, which the Portland Trail Blazers ended up winning by 1. If I’m honest, the combo was better than I expected, but I still didn’t love it.
If Nurk adopts a Draymond Green sort of role (which he can), then it could be a real issue for teams having to defend both Whiteside and Nurkic in the paint. Nurk seems comfortable shooting three’s now, so the spacing doesn’t suffer too much.
But Nurkic is really, really good at the 5, and I think it’s a waste of his talents making him play the 4. I also think Whiteside is an unbelievable player to have coming off of the bench; he’d completely tear second units apart, and could turn into a real energy player for Portland.
The first play actually worked perfectly, as Nurkic lobbed a cross-court pass to CJ for an open three, with Whiteside occupying the paint. But does playing them together slightly decrease their effect on the game? I want to get the best out of having two of the best centers in the game, and I don’t playing one of them out of position is the way to do that.