Portland Trail Blazers

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NBA D-League Assignments/Recalls: 4/1/17

Here are Saturday’s D-League assignments and recalls from around the NBA:

10:39pm:

  • The Trail Blazers recalled Tim Quarterman from the Long Island Nets, the team announced on its website. Portland is among the NBA teams without a direct D-League affiliate. Quarterman has appeared in 13 Trail Blazers games this season, averaging 1.5 points and 3.4 minutes per night.

3:26pm:

  • The Rockets assigned Chinanu Onuaku to the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports (Twitter link). Onuaku has started 39 games with Rio Grande this season, averaging 13.7 points with 10.7 rebounds.

Northwest Notes: Nurkic, Nuggets, Favors, Wolves

Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic suffered the fracture in his right leg Tuesday against the Nuggets, tweets Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. He played 32 minutes in Thursday’s game before the injury was discovered on Friday. Nurkic will be out of action for at least two weeks, and Portland is hoping he can be ready for the playoffs. “It just depends how I feel,” Nurkic said. “The doctor said, ‘He’s tough,’ and if it doesn’t hurt I’m going to be back.” (Twitter link). Blazers coach Terry Stotts plans to use a “committee” approach at center while Nurkic is out, with Meyers Leonard getting the start tonight (Twitter link).

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • After losing three straight and falling two games behind Portland in the race for the final playoff spot, Nuggets coach Michael Malone wants his team to close out the season “the right way,” relays Christopher Dempsey on NBA.com. “If we do finish the right way, maybe other things happen and we give ourselves a chance,” Malone said. “I want to find guys that when everything looks bleak, who is going to go out there and play anyway. … Going forward, I will find a group of five guys, vets or young guys, whoever it may be, to go out there and play and play as hard as possible.” Denver has to overcome injury problems as it tries to save its season. Will Barton, Darrell Arthur and Jameer Nelson are all questionable for Sunday’s game at Miami and possibly beyond.
  • The Jazz are hoping injured forward Derrick Favors can return before the end of the regular season, according to Jody Genessy of The Deseret News. A bone bruise in his left knee has kept Favors sidelined since March 6th, but coach Quin Snyder said Friday that he is “hopeful” about Favors coming back.
  • Despite having some of the most exciting young players in the league, attendance remains a problem for the Timberwolves, notes Kent Youngblood of The Star Tribune. Even though the crowds have been trending upward, Minnesota is last in the NBA with an average of 14,584 fans per night. The Wolves are getting about 4% larger crowds than they did last season, but it will take success on the court for that number to increase significantly.

Jusuf Nurkic Suffers Fractured Right Leg

10:04pm: There is a possibility Nurkic will return in time for the postseason, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reports. Per Wojnarowski, Nurkic’s return is contingent upon the big man being “fully functional and pain-free.” Nurkic’s return would be a boon to Portland’s postseason chances.

8:53pm: Jusuf Nurkic has been diagnosed with a fractured right leg and will miss at least two weeks, the Trail Blazers announced through a press release (link). Nurkic’s career had taken off after being dealt from the Nuggets, averaging 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in 20 games with Portland.

While the injury effectively ends his regular season, it remains to be seen whether Nurkic would recover in time to play in the postseason. Meyers Leonard, who has averaged 15.7 MPG in 2016/17, should receive a stark increase in minutes as the season winds down.

Nurkic’s injury occurred during Thursday’s match-up with Houston.

Poll: No. 8 Seed In Western Conference

For most of the 2016/17 season, seven Western Conference teams have comfortably held postseason positions. The Warriors and Spurs have led the pack, followed by the Rockets, with the Jazz, Clippers, Thunder, and Grizzlies rounding out the top seven. The order those teams finish in has yet to be determined, but none of them are in danger of losing their playoff spots.

That leaves just one open spot for Western Conference teams vying for playoff contention, and the battle for the No. 8 seed has been an interesting one. With one or two exceptions, virtually every team in the bottom of the Western standings has been viewed as a viable candidate for that final postseason spot at some point since October — even the last-place Lakers created a little buzz when they opened the season with a 10-10 record before falling off significantly.

At this point, two teams look like top contenders for that No. 8 seed, and those two clubs actually completed a trade with one another just last month. The Nuggets and Trail Blazers swapped Mason Plumlee for Jusuf Nurkic in February, and those players have thrived with their new teams, helping to position them for a run at the West’s No. 8 seed. Both teams have been among the NBA’s best so far in March — Denver currently holds a one game lead over Portland with 13 to play, but the Blazers have won three games in a row and have a favorable schedule down the stretch.

Ultimately, it might not matter much which team claims the No. 8 spot — neither the Nuggets nor the Blazers is a serious threat to upset the top-ranked Warriors (or Spurs). Still, either club could at least make things a little interesting in round one as a frisky underdog, given how well they’ve been playing as of late.

What do you think? Will it be the Nuggets or the Blazers in that No. 8 spot at the end of the regular season? Or will another Western team – such as the Mavericks, Pelicans, or Timberwolves – sneak into that final spot with a hot streak in the season’s final weeks?

Trade Rumors app users, click here to vote.

Northwest Notes: Plumlee, Turner, Donovan, Faried

Jusuf Nurkic has been on a tear since his trade to Portland, but Mason Plumlee‘s teammates are happy to have him in Denver. While Plumlee and the Nuggets are still in the “getting-to-know-you phase,” as Nick Kosmider of the Denver Post puts it, Mason has grown more comfortable with each passing game.

“I was telling Mike (Miller) on the bench that this is collectively the best passing team I’ve played on,” Plumlee said. “It’s exciting. There is energy in the ball. I feel like the way guys play on this team is contagious.”

The Nuggets maintain a 2.5 game lead on the eighth seed; between his stints with the Nets and Trail Blazers, Plumlee has a combined 27 games of playoff experience. Plumlee’s style of play has already earned the respect of standout center Nikola Jokic.

“He just wants to win,” Jokic said. “He wants to do the stuff that some other players don’t want to do.”

More from around the Northwest:

  • After missing five weeks with a fracture in his right hand, Evan Turner is expected to make his return to the lineup tomorrow against the Hawks. According to Joe Freeman of The Oregonian, Turner returned to practice Friday after hour-long workouts on Wednesday and Thursday. A seventh-year veteran, Turner’s “brand of playmaking and solid perimeter defense” should provide a boost to the Trail Blazers‘ postseason push. “I’m done talking about the injury and worrying about it, because it’s already over with,” Turner said. “Knock on wood.”
  • Now two years into his NBA coaching career, Billy Donovan‘s name still surfaces when a college coaching job opens up. According to Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman, the Indiana Hoosiers were speculated to have interest in hiring Donovan; a rumor the OKC coach shot down. “I am totally happy here,” Donovan said. “I love it here. I love the guys I work with every day. I love our staff, the organization. As far as I’m concerned, my commitment is totally here and doing the best job I can while I’m here.”
  • Kenneth Faried is eager to return to form after suffering a debilitating back injury, Nick Kosmider of the Denver Post writes. “The Manimal” missed 14 out of 17 games due to the injury, scoring 12 points over 18 minutes in his return to the court last night. “It was some of the worst pain I ever felt,” Faried said. “I’m just happy to be able to walk and jump and do the normal things like sit down normally. I’m glad to be able to do a light sprint or a jog and not have to worry about my back flaring up. I’m happy to be able to do those little things. You never know what can happen, and you take those for granted until something like that happens.”

“Not A Chance” Blazers Bring Back Festus Ezeli

Jason Quick, CSN’s Trail Blazers Insider, rejected the possibility of Portland picking up Festus Ezeli‘s team option for 2017/18, saying there’s “no chance” of it happening (Twitter link). Should Neil Oshey decline Ezeli’s options, he’ll join the 2017 free agent class as a bounce-back candidate.

Ezeli didn’t play a game this year, suffering a left knee injury before undergoing season-ending surgery. The 27-year-old Ezeli made $7.4MM in 2016/17, and would be owed $7.733MM if Portland picked up his option for next season. Quick discussed other big men Portland could pursue over the offseason, suggesting the team look for a trade partner or hope for a return to form from Ed Davis, who will be entering the final season of his three-year deal (Twitter link).

Prior to his season-ending surgery, Ezeli spoke to reporters in December about the frustration of a lost season.

“I’m kind of past the point of frustration because at first it was — I’m not going to lie, it definitely was,” he said. “I’m at the point where I’m just trying to find a solution. The sooner I can, the sooner I can get on the court and help my team win games. I just can’t wait to get on the court, that’s my biggest thing. I miss basketball, I haven’t played basketball in a while, so that’s my biggest thing right now.”

Checking In On NBA’s 2017 Draft Lottery Trades

As our 2016/17 NBA Reverse Standings show, the Celtics – by way of the Nets – have all but clinched the No. 1 spot in the 2017 draft lottery. With a record of 12-53, Brooklyn has a 7.5-game “lead” over the second-place Lakers, who are 20-46. Barring a hot streak that sees the Nets practically double their win total, their last-place finish will ensure that the Celtics have a 25% chance of landing the first overall pick this spring.

However, once we move past the Nets, there are many interesting lottery situations that are far from decided, which could have significant ramifications for the future of several franchises. Here’s a closer look at a few of them:

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are currently in second place in our reverse standings, with a 1.5-game lead on the Suns. If Los Angeles can hold that position the rest of the way, it would give the team a great chance to keep its 2017 first-round pick, which is top-three protected. If they lose the pick, it’ll be sent to the Sixers.

If the Lakers finish as the NBA’s second-worst team, they’d have a 55.8% chance of landing in the top three and keeping their pick. If they were to slip just one spot in the lottery standings and finish with the league’s third-worst record, those odds would shift below 50/50, to just 46.9%.

This year’s lottery outcome is particularly crucial for the Lakers, since losing this year’s pick would also mean they’d have to send their 2019 first-rounder (unprotected) to Orlando. If the Lakers keep this year’s first-rounder, their commitment to the Magic would become a pair of second-round picks in 2017 and 2018.

Philadelphia 76ers / Sacramento Kings

The Kings‘ 2017 first-round pick is top-10 protected — if it lands outside the top 10, Sacramento will have to send the pick to Chicago. However, a lengthy losing streak has put the Kings in a great position to keep that selection — they’re now 25-41, No. 6 in our reverse standings and four full games ahead of the 29-37 Hornets (No. 11).

With the Kings’ pick looking pretty safe, it’s now worth watching to see where it lands in relation to the Sixers‘ pick. Philadelphia has the opportunity to swap picks with the Kings, so Sacramento won’t necessarily be rooting for lottery luck unless both the Kings and Sixers can jump into the top three. Currently, the 24-42 Sixers are just one game ahead of Sacramento in our reverse standings.

If the Kings and Sixers finish as the league’s fifth- and sixth-worst teams, Philadelphia would have a 15.1% chance of landing the first-round pick, rather than just 8.8%.

New Orleans Pelicans

When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins last month, most observers called the trade a coup for New Orleans. However, that early assessment of the deal hinged on the assumption that the Pelicans would improve with Cousins in the lineup, reducing the value of the first-round pick they sent to Sacramento in the swap. That hasn’t happened so far, as the 26-40 Pelicans place eighth in our reverse standings.

If the Pelicans were to finish as the NBA’s eighth-worst team, they’d have a 10% chance to jump into the top three and hang onto their pick. Otherwise, the Kings would be in position to acquire the pick and hold two top-10 selections.

The rest

No other lottery picks for 2017 appear to be in flux — the Mavericks traded their first-rounder to the Sixers, but it’s top-18 protected, and Dallas has essentially no chance of landing outside of the top 18.

Further down in our reverse standings, outside of the lottery, every traded first-round pick should change hands. Of those late-round selections, the most valuable traded pick looks to be the Grizzlies‘ selection, which they’ll send to the Trail Blazers. It currently projects to be No. 19 overall.

RealGM’s list of traded draft picks was used in the creation of this post.

Northwest Notes: Nurkic, Adams, Payne

Jusuf Nurkics presence on the court has opened up the Blazers‘ offense and his energy has helped the team on the defensive end, Mike Richman of the Oregonian writes. Coach Terry Stotts praised the big man after Tuesday’s win over the Thunder.

“There’s no question he’s had an impact,” Stotts said of Nurkic. “I don’t want to undersell that. But I do think everybody is playing well off of him. But I think he has infused some energy and a different look. His style of play is obviously different than [Mason Plumlee]. The way he’s been able to integrate with our team on both ends of the court has made a huge difference.”

Here’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The addition of Nurkic has helped the Blazers get back into the playoff picture and Joe Freeman of the Oregonian (podcast link)  wonders if the big man can be the team’s center long-term. Nurkic is averaging 14.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while shooting 54.9% from the field since coming to Portland.
  • Steven Adams, who signed a $100MM extension during the offseason, admits that he’s struggled on the defensive end lately, but added that the Thunder‘s issues go beyond his poor play, as Erik Horne of the Oklahoman relays. “Even though your defensive coverages aren’t perfect or everything, the backside’s still got to be there. It’s literally a five-man thing. It ain’t really on one guy on the team. It ain’t so much scouting. It ain’t scouting at all. It’s our discipline to the defensive system we have going on.” Oklahoma City has lost four straight games.
  • Adreian Payne, who missed the last 13 games for the Wolves while being treated for thrombocytopenia, has been cleared to practice and the big man is thrilled to be back on the court, as Dane Mizutani of the Pioneer Press passes along. “I’m feeling good,” Payne said. “Healthy. I’m just trying to get back in shape. I’m happy to be with the team.”

Festus Ezeli Undergoes Knee Surgery

MARCH 8, 11:32am: Ezeli has undergone surgery on his left knee and has been officially ruled out for the remained of the 2016/17 season, the Trail Blazers announced today in a press release.

MARCH 4, 10:01pm: A cadaver donor will be used in Ezeli’s surgery, according to Chris Haynes of ESPN.com. Ezeli had been awaiting a donor for months, but because he is 6’11” it wasn’t easy to find a match.

A doctor recently submitted the name of a potential donor, and the surgery has been set for an undetermined day next week. Ezeli is believed to be the first NBA player ever to rely on a cadaver donor for an operation.

Haynes notes that NFL quarterback Carson Palmer had a cadaver donor when he tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in the 2006 playoffs. Palmer was able to return to the field for the start of the following season.

Ezeli’s recovery time is projected to be much longer, with one source saying it could take up to a year.

6:05pm: Festus Ezeli will undergo surgery next week to fix his left knee, the Trail Blazers posted on their website.

President of basketball operations Neil Olshey made the announcement, saying Ezeli’s operation will be performed by Dr. Robert LaPrade at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado.

Ezeli hasn’t played this season after signing a two-year, $15MM deal with Portland last summer. He had offseason surgery on the knee, but it started hurting again early in training camp. He announced in December that he was considering another operation because he believes his long-term health is at stake.

Ezeli’s contract creates the possibility that he will never play a game for the Blazers. He is owed $7.73MM for 2017/18, but only $1MM of that is guaranteed through the end of June. With the Blazers possibly looking at luxury tax payments next season, Ezeli’s deal seems like a good way to save money, either by waiving him or trading him. Portland reportedly tried hard to find a taker for Ezeli before last week’s trade deadline.

The 26-year-old center is in his fourth NBA season. He averaged 4.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game during three years in Golden State.

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