The Trail Blazers are the hottest team in the NBA, and some of the credit for that winning steak belongs to Portland’s 23-year-old center, Jusuf Nurkic. The big man has provided the bruising post presence that coach Terry Stotts’ system needed after arriving from Denver prior to last season’s NBA Trade Deadline
With Nurkic and the Blazers exceeding expectations, HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy took some time to interview Portland’s man in the middle.
Kennedy asked a variety of questions, which included Nurkic’s thoughts on Portland’s current winning streak and the remainder of the regular season:
I think as a team, we’re just understanding what we need to do. By now, at this point in the season, we know what it takes for us to win. There are some teams that are out of the playoffs that aren’t looking for wins right now and we’ve been taking advantage of that. Everyone competes at the end of the day, but some teams quit and some don’t. We’re beating those teams and we’re winning against the playoff teams we’re facing too. We have a rough schedule to close the season; we play a lot of the playoff teams. But that’s good. Everyone wants to play good games [to prepare for the playoffs]. I feel when it comes to myself, I’m just more focused on the little things and particulars. I try to work really hard, as hard as I can, so I can be in the position that I’m in now.
Nurkic followed that up with his thoughts on how he can help the Blazers in the postseason now that he is healthy:
This team has never had an issue on offense; we’re always able to score points. We have two guards who can score anytime and anywhere, and they just make the game so easy for me. Our defense is where we are better. We’re way better. That’s likely the category where we jumped the most. [Editor’s note: Portland defense is seventh-best in the NBA this season, up from 21st in the league last year.] When I got here, I knew this team could be better and I really focused on the defense.
Now, we have a team where everyone is playing well: Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, Shabazz Napier… Everyone has found their own role and everyone is playing great [on both ends of the court]. These have all been team wins, which is great.
The Blazers are currently slotted for the No. 3 seed in the playoffs with 13 games remaining.
You can read Kennedy’s full interview with Nurkic by visiting HoopsHype.