Six weeks after arriving in Portland last season, center Jusuf Nurkic dashed his former team’s playoff hopes with a career night and a big win for the Trail Blazers. Now, more than six months since the Bosnian Beast wished the Denver Nuggets a “happy summer,” the two clubs face off for the first time. Although Nurkic downplayed any sort of “revenge” mentality on his end, Harrison Wind of BSN Denver reports that the Nuggets, privately, have an axe to grind:
One player told BSN Denver on Saturday that the Nuggets definitely view the Trail Blazers as their rival. Last season’s loss in Portland at the hands of Nurkic kindled that flame and his postgame proclamations that night and comments since didn’t go unnoticed by Denver’s players either.
There’s a feeling around the team and in Denver’s locker room that whether players want to admit it publicly or not, they’re taking this matchup with Portland a little differently than their previous 12 games this season. That’s not to say that the Nuggets have taken any of their opponents lightly so far this year but expect Denver to play with a certain edge Monday night.
The 8-5 Nuggets rank third in the Western conference right now and come into Portland on a 3-game winning streak, while the Trail Blazers have dropped their last two. The Nuggets’ offseason signing of veteran forward Paul Millsap has fortified a young, talented roster, posing an additional challenge to Nurkic as he attempts to hold the fort.
Nurkic has scored 20+ points in three of his last four games and should be raring to go after a surprise benching in the fourth quarter of the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday.
But this matchup is not all blood and fury. Former Trail Blazer Will Barton holds no ill-will and sees the game as one of 82.
“That phase (of my career) is over with,” Barton told reporters from the Nuggets’ locker room Saturday night when asked if there was anything personal about this matchup for him. “I’ve been gone there two years now, going on three. I don’t look at it that way anymore. I just look at it as going there and trying to get a win for our team. Keep us rolling and that’s that on that.”
With a win tonight, the Trail Blazers (6-6) can right the ship and pull back above .500, but a loss is sure to generate further waves of concern for a team that appears to be underachieving in the early season. Will the Nuggets twist the knife?
To read Wind’s full article, follow this link.