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Nurkic Fever Roundup: Career Night Sparks Praise and Criticism

The Bosnian Beast tallied a career-high 33 points in a victory that gave Portland an edge on Denver.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

With a 122-113 win over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, the Portland Trail Blazers seized control of the battle for eighth seed in the West. They now own the season series against the Nuggets (3-1) and the tiebreak outright. They also took a full game lead, having entered the contest with an identical 35-38 record and exited with another win in their own column, while Denver took the loss. On a macro level, the game was big for Portland; on a micro level, the trade for center Jusuf Nurkic that preceded it was even bigger.

The former Nugget demolished the team that traded him with a career-high 33 points, leaving several writers and media members enthusiastic about the Trail Blazers’ shot at the NBA playoffs, and critical of Denver’s apparent transactional misstep. Check out the following articles to see what is being said in the wake of Nurkic’s ‘Nurk’ulean performance.

Blazers Get 'Keys to the Car'
Kerry Eggers (The Portland Tribune)

The sub-plot all but overpowered the main theme Tuesday night, with a sellout throng of 20,003 playing a role in the proceedings. Nurkic was going against the team that sent him to Portland on Feb. 13 in a trade that brought center Mason Plumlee to the Nuggets.

Nurkic insisted in the days leading up to the game that it wouldn't be personal, and he said the same thing after scoring a career-high 33 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking three shots in an All-Star-caliber performance against the team that gave him away.

But it was.

"I knew he'd be ready to play," said McCollum, who bombed in 39 points in one of the best shooting performances of his career. "He's had this game circled since he got here.

"We have a slogan for the big Nurk: 'From the bench to the playoffs.' We knew he'd be aggressive, he'd be efficient. He did what we expected."

Denver’s Coach Mike Malone: "Jusuf Nurkic Kicked Our Ass"
Dwight Jaynes (CSN NW)

"Jusuf Nurkic kicked our ass," Malone said after Portland's 122-113 monster win over his Nuggets. “He was very physical. To come on the road and give up 28 second-chance points, we couldn’t rebound all night. It’s a tough loss for us.”

That pretty well sums it up. And let me just say that in my many seasons of covering the NBA, I can't remember a time when a player stuck it to his former team to the degree that Nurkic (33 points, 16 rebounds, three blocked shots) did Tuesday. Many times I have seen players so choked up with a thirst for revenge against a former team that they accomplished virtually nothing. It takes something special to do what Nurkic did to his former team. And I couldn't help but think the Nugget players knew him well enough to know what was coming and were just a little bit wary of him. Almost intimidated.

Trail Blazers Trade and Center Jusuf Nurkic's 'I love you guys' Rings Solid
John Canzano (The Oregonian)

I'm not ready to anoint him as the franchise savior. But he's an incredibly fun development. People love him because he's saved this season from irrelevancy. Also, because he's humble, strong, and has endured some moments in his early career that have positioned him as hungry. Denver fans can't be pleased that he stuck a dagger in their playoff hopes and jabbed them with, "I wish those guys happy summer." But I have to think Denver is not alone today in wondering how they let the "Bosnian Bear" slip through their fingers.

Maybe Don't Trade Players To Your Closest Conference Rival
Tom Ley (Deadspin)

On the day Nurkic was traded, the Nuggets were 24-30 and sitting in the eighth spot. The Blazers were right behind them, at 23-31. The Nuggets have gone 11-9 since, while the Blazers have gone 13-6 since Nurkic got into the lineup, and it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that he’s been leading Portland’s charge. He’s averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds, and almost two blocks per game as a Blazer, and the beating he put on the Nuggets last night will serve as a neat encapsulation of what he’s given Portland during this stretch run.

Blazers Grab Control of 8th Seed on Back of Jusuf Nurkic
Danny Clayton (FanRag Sports)

The Blazers woke up on March 1 with the 11th-best record in the Western Conference, but have since won 12 of 15. The spring push helped them leapfrog Sacramento and Dallas into a tie with eighth-place Denver, and on Tuesday night the run culminated with a victory that broke that tie and put Portland in eighth by itself.

The win also wrapped their season series with Denver at 3-1, so with the tiebreaker in hand, their chances at grabbing that final playoff spot just got a huge shot in the arm. For a team that bottomed out at 11 games under .500 just a month ago, the reversal is stunning.

Portland’s case of ‘Nurkic Fever’ has the Trail Blazers hotter than they’ve been all season, giving the Nuggets chills of something close to regret. Denver needed Nurkic gone, but as the playoffs near and retrospect comes into focus, the February 13 trade may have sealed their fate. We will know for sure in two weeks time. For now, Portland is enjoying the ride.