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PORTLAND, Ore. — First, it was five straight losses. Then it was three wins in a row. Now, two consecutive losses. We don't know much about this Portland squad, but we can say with certainty that they're streaky. It's time to check in on the Blazers with another edition of 3-on-3, a weekly KGW feature.
Every Thursday, three members of the KGW sports team will answer three questions about the Blazers. You can join the conversation on Facebook during a live chat with our panel every Thursday afternoon at 3. Can't join us on Thursday? Not a problem. You can listen later on the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast.
This week's questions focus on whether fans should feel optimistic or pessimistic about this team; Jusuf Nurkic's playing time; and predictions for the next two games
If you'd like to submit a question for today's Facebook Live and podcast, email us here.
LISTEN TO KGW'S 3-ON-3 BLAZERS PODCAST
MEET OUR PANELISTS
- Orlando Sanchez is the sports anchor and reporter for KGW News, Sports Sunday and Friday Night Flights. Orlando has covered multiple NBA Finals, NCAA Basketball Tournaments and World Series.
- Jared Cowley is a digital media producer who writes about the Blazers for KGW.com. Before he came to KGW, Jared wrote about the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors as a sports editor at two daily newspapers.
- Nate Hanson is a digital producer who contributes to KGW.com's coverage of the Blazers, Ducks, Beavers and high school sports.
1. Should Blazers fans be encouraged or discouraged right now? The Blazers won 3 in a row and followed that with two games in which they were right there, but ultimately came up short against the Timberwolves and Spurs, two of the better teams in the West. Is the glass half full or half empty?
Nate: I think the glass is full and we're seeing exactly who the Blazers are. They're a good team but not a great team. They can be great for a stretch of games, just like they can struggle for short stretches. What we've seen this year is why general manager Neil Olshey was so active in trying to add another All-Star caliber player in the offseason. They're another offensive piece away from being an elite team in the Western Conference. Until that happens, I think this is the Blazers team we'll continue to see and they'll be fighting for the playoff seeding in the No. 4-8 range with the teams currently competing for those spots (Timberwolves, Thunder, Nuggets, Pelicans, Jazz). The good news for the Blazers is, besides the Timberwolves, I don't see any other team in that group potentially separating from the rest. So the Blazers should be in the hunt for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage all season.
Orlando: Blazers fans, unless you're cool with a mediocre season, it's time to feel discouraged. Thirty-one games is a solid sample size and right now the identity of this team matches its record. This is a .500 team. Inconsistencies on both ends of the floor have Portland sitting at 16-15. We saw close losses to good teams at the beginning of the season and we're still seeing them now. The most recent losses to Minnesota and San Antonio are games good teams figure out a way to win. The Blazers have lost seven out of their last 10 and homecourt has not been an advantage, losing five straight at the Moda Center. The painful part is the Blazers are close. They're fifth in the Western Conference and the two teams ahead of them (Minnesota and San Antonio) were losses that came down to the final shot. There's not much separation between fifth and ninth and that's where I expect to see them for most of the year.
Jared: Because the Blazers' defense has returned to form over the past five games, I'll nudge the needle ever so slightly into optimism. After a two-week defensive slump that spanned late November and early December, the Blazers have plugged the leaks and are back to playing like the Top-5 defensive squad they were the first month of the season. Their defensive rating ranks third in the NBA over the past five games. Even with the offense struggling, if the Blazers continue to play good defense, they can sustain this level of production, which is good enough to keep them in the running for the fifth or sixth spot in the West. How you perceive this team will be determined by your expectations. If you expect the Blazers to perform at the level of the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors, you'll be disappointed. But if you believe this Blazers team probably caps out at 45 wins and a fifth or sixth seed, you should still be encouraged.
2. Jusuf Nurkic was effective against the Spurs, with 15 points and six rebounds. But he played just 25 minutes. Since he returned to the lineup four games ago, he's played 25 minutes three times and 28 minutes once. Should Nurkic be playing more?
Orlando: Jusuf Nurkic is fresh off back-to-back solid outings. He appears to be healthy and playing with confidence. He stepped up when Damian Lillard went down with a leg injury in the Spurs game. He should be getting more minutes, but this is a marathon, not a sprint. Nurk has to be healthy to be effective and that means limiting his minutes. In a perfect world, it would be great to crank up the minutes, but wouldn't you rather have a healthy Nurkic at the end of the year? This limits some of the wear and tear, giving him a better chance to make it through. If he's got the hot hand, Terry Stotts may have to take some chances and let the Bosnian Beast go to work to try and win some of these close games. If not, I'm sure Ed Davis doesn't mind the extra minutes either.
Jared: This is a small sample-size problem, because before the injury Nurkic was playing about 30 minutes per game. But if the minutes restriction has been lifted, Nurkic shouldn't be playing 25 minutes per game. He's playing under control, he's operating within the flow of the offense and he continues to be a significant presence on defense. Over the past four games, he's averaging 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and shooting 56 percent from the field. He's starting to hit those inside shots he was missing earlier in the season, at least in part because he's being more aggressive when attacking the basket. Over the past four games, CJ McCollum has played 38 minutes per game; Damian Lillard 36, Evan Turner 33 and Al-Farouq Aminu 31. Unless Nurkic's conditioning doesn't allow it — and I haven't seen evidence of that — he should be playing at least 32 minutes per game. Consider Nurkic's per-36 averages over the past four games: 20.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Get him on the court more.
Nate: I think he's averaging the amount he should. You always run the risk of injury and wearing down a big man as the season goes on, especially a guy like Nurkic who hasn't started more than 48 games in a season. He averaged 28 minutes and 15 points per game before he suffered the injury and we're seeing nearly the same numbers since his return. I think we're actually seeing improved offensive efficiency from Nurkic since his return. He's shot 50 percent or better in each of his last three games and had one of his best games of the season against Karl-Anthony Towns. Ed Davis and Zach Collins continue to provide quality minutes off the bench for the time being, so there's no need to extend Nurkic.
3. Prediction time! The Blazers play just two games between now and next Thursday. On Friday, they host the Denver Nuggets (16-15), followed by a Saturday road game against the Los Angeles Lakers (11-18). Which games do the Blazers win, and which do they lose?
- Nate: 22-9
- Orlando: 21-10
- Jared: 20-11
Jared: I'm picking the Blazers to split these games. Nuggets-Blazers is becoming one of the team's most intriguing rivalries, not only because of the Jusuf Nurkic-Nikola Jokic connection, but also because these two teams should be angling for playoff position all season. The Nuggets haven't been playing very well lately. They're 4-6 in their past 10 games and even though their offense is good, ranking ninth during that stretch, their defense is one of the worst in the NBA. It looks just as bad as last season. Losing Paul Millsap has hurt that team a lot. The Blazers will snap their five-game homecourt losing streak against the Nuggets. The Lakers give me pause because they just beat the Rockets on the road, and were competitive in losses against the Warriors, Cavaliers and Knicks before that. Both of these teams are playing the second game of a back-to-back. I'll give the slight edge to the home team and say the Lakers beat the Blazers in a closely contested, low-scoring game.
Nate: The Blazers sweep the weekend and go into the Christmas break with something to feel good about. The Nuggets are just 5-12 on the road and the Blazers have already blown them out once this season. In his two matchups against his former team, Nurkic has played really well, including a career-high 33 points in last season's game. I expect another strong performance. I think the Lakers game will be similar to the one we saw go to down to the wire in Portland earlier this year. I expect the pace to be fast but the Blazers will be able to pull out the win again. These are two games the Blazers should win and fans should be rightfully disappointed if they don't come out victorious in both.
Orlando: The Blazers have been predictable over the past couple of weeks. Winning games against teams with losing records and losing games to teams with winning records. It gets tricky with opponents right in the middle. An example of that is the Denver Nuggets. If Damian Lillard's leg injury is serious, this could be a tough out. Denver has been banged up too, most notably, missing Paul Millsap. I expect a close game at the Moda Center, but I'll take Portland for the win (let's just hope they're not wearing those red uniforms). Then it's a quick turnaround, playing the next night in LA. This is a game the Blazers should win. The Lakers are 11-18 and have lost three out of four. Portland goes 2-0 this week.
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Blazers 3-on-3 chat
We're back with another Blazers 3-on-3 live chat. This week, the KGW sports team discusses the up and down Blazers season, whether Nurkic should play more and predicts the upcoming week of games.Posted by KGW-TV on Thursday, December 21, 2017
If you'd like to submit a Blazers question for our panel to answer during the 3-on-3 podcast, send us an email here.