Nurkic hopes to build on solid effort as Blazers take on Griz
PORTLAND, Oregon — For a game, at least, Jusuf Nurkic’s shooting touch was back.
After making only 8 of 39 shots from the field in his previous three games, the 7-foot Bosnian was 8 for 12 in a 20-point, seven-assist performance as the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 131-127 Monday night at Staples Center.
“I’ve got to trust my game,” said Nurkic, who will start at center when the Trail Blazers (17-13) play host to the Memphis Grizzlies (16-14) Wednesday night at Moda Center. “I know how much I put the hard work in. (Bad shooting performances) happen sometimes. I had good looks and they didn’t go down (in the previous three games). But I can affect the game in many different ways, not just scoring.”
Nurkic’s field-goal percentage had dipped to .479 — poor for a post man, especially one with a solid shooting touch like Nurkic. He was much more on point Monday against the Clippers.
“It was good to see him get off to a good start,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “He was finishing around the basket. He’d had a rough three games as far as finishing. It was good to see him have the bounce in his game that he needs.”
The Blazers could use Nurkic playing at the top of his game against Memphis, which features veteran center Marc Gasol. Gasol made only 4 of 15 shots from the field but contributed nine points, seven rebounds, six blocked shots and five assists in the Grizzlies’ 92-83 win over the Blazers last Wednesday at FedEx Forum.
Memphis will need to do a better defensive job on Portland shooting guard CJ McCollum, who bombed in 40 points — nearly half the Blazers’ total — in their last matchup.
The win over Portland was the only one in the last six outings for Memphis, which has lost three games in a row since then, including a 110-93 setback at Golden State Monday on the first stop of a four-game road trip. Mike Conley, who was terrific against the Blazers with 23 points, six rebounds and six assists, missed the Warriors game with a sore left hamstring and is questionable for Wednesday’s affair in Portland.
“When you’re as reliant on Mike as much as we are, it takes some time to adjust,” Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff told reporters afterward. “But we did a better job in the second half of moving the ball and finding a way to score.”
One of the Grizzlies who played well Monday was forward Omri Casspi, a former Warrior who knocked down 8 of 10 shots and scored a season-high 20 points in 20 minutes.
“Happy to play against my former team and teammates,” Casspi said. “I love those guys, but it doesn’t mean much. We lost and that’s all that matters.”
Portland and Memphis will continue to jockey for position in the crowded Western Conference race. After Monday’s results, the Blazers were tied with the Clippers for fifth place in the conference, with the Grizzlies a game back in eighth place. Only seven games separate first-place Denver (20-9) and 14th-place Utah (14-17) in the conference standings.