Portland Trail Blazers: Can Jusuf Nurkic be trusted against the Denver Nuggets?

Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets are putting on a heck of a series and the x-factor is proving to be Jusuf Nurkic. After dropping what seemed to be a do-or-die Game 3, the Blazers responded in a big way, washing the Nuggets, 115-95, to once again even the series.

Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic finally cooled off, combining for a modest 26 points on an ugly 21 percent shooting. What made the difference in this blowout is that the other Blazers were ready to pick up the slack but the Nuggets seemed content to go back home tied 2-2.

Norman Powell played out of his mind, tallying 29 points on 11-15 from the field. CJ McCollum added an easy 21 points. On the other hand, Facundo Campazzo and Monte Morris tied for second in scoring for Denver at a mere 12 points.

The Blazers came out with great intensity on defense and several adjustments made by Coach Stotts that paid off handsomely.

Jusuf Nurkic has played well for the Portland Trail Blazers but can he stay in the game against the Denver Nuggets

Jokic has been a problem for the Portland Trail Blazers. While Jusuf Nurkic isn’t a good option against Jokic, because there isn’t one, he’s still the best option on the Blazers roster and one of the better options in the league. He was a huge reason for the Joker’s struggles in Game 4.

Before this series, Jokic and Nurkic have played their games to basically a draw. The two are intertwined; both are European bigs drafted for their versatility by the Nuggets. Nurk had struggled to establish himself before Jokic overtook his spot as Denver’s center of the future. The Bosnian Beast was ultimately traded alongside a first-round pick for former Blazer Mason Plumlee.

While that was an absolute burglary by Portland, Nikola Jokic makes it easy for the Nuggets to forget the intricacies of that deal with his astronomical ascension. Before this series though, it always seemed like Nurkic wanted to prove that Denver made a mistake each time he lined up across Jokic for the tip.

If you look through the Joker’s MVP-sized shadow, you’ll notice that Nurkic is actually having a pretty good series. He’s averaging 13.3 points on 56 percent shooting to go along with 11 rebounds. The problem here is his struggle to stay out of foul trouble. Through the first three matchups, Nurk averaged over five fouls a night, cutting his playing time each game.

Going into Game 4, Coach Terry Stotts seemed determined to match Nurk’s minutes to Jokic, to the delight of Blazers fans all over the Twitter-verse. Now, he’s got the added responsibility of not only doing everything he can to slow down the eventual-MVP, but to avoid fouling while doing so.

He’s generally a smart defender; he only averaged 2.8 fouls through the regular season. Can he start to defend with his head more than his bulky body and check Jokic for every second in this series moving forward?

Here are a couple other takeways from Game 4: