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Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic kicked Denver’s ‘ass’ and out of playoff race in West

By trading Jusuf Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Denver Nuggets — as DJ Khaled would say — played themselves.

The latest example of this occurred on Tuesday, thanks to Nurkic’s career night of 33 points and 16 rebounds, the Blazers defeated the Nuggets 122-113. Denver is now a game back of Portland for the eighth seed and their chances of making the postseason for the first time since 2013 aren’t looking good, especially since the Blazers have the tiebreaker over the Nuggets.

After the game, Nurkic trolled his former teammates and Nuggets coach Mike Malone had to give credit where credit was due, complimenting the play of his former player while also being quite blunt about his own team’s performance.

While Malone’s brutal honesty is a bit comical, the Nuggets coach is right about Nurkic. The Blazers big man just dominated the Nuggets and is making Denver’s mid-season trade with Portland look very one-sided.

Denver traded Nurkic and a first round pick to Portland on Feb. 13 in exchange for Mason Plumlee, which seemed fine at the time. Nurkic didn’t mesh well with Nikola Jokic on the court and the two were virtually unplayable together. Jokic even told Malone he would be fine coming off the bench so he could have more space on the court without Nurkic clogging up passing lanes and the paint. But the Nuggets instead benched Nurkic and allowed Jokic to really take off and show strong signs of being a future star for Denver.

Nurkic meanwhile grew disgruntled on the bench and rarely played, so Denver traded him with the the hopes that Plumlee would provide depth. And while Plumlee has been fine for the Nuggets, the trade seems to be a clear win for the Blazers, especially since they got Nurkic and a first-round pick in the deal.

Nurkic has flourished in Portland, providing the Blazers with a much needed presence in the paint that opens up scoring opportunities for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Since joining the Blazers, Nurkic is averaging 15 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.2 steals — excellent numbers for the third best player on the Blazers. Nurkic has injected new life into the Blazers and in large because of him, Portland likely could be heading to the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

When the Nuggets traded Nurkic, they were eighth in the West with a record of 24-30. Portland was right behind them with a record of 23-31. But ever since that trade, the tides have changed for both teams. Denver has gone 11-9 while Portland is 13-6 since trading for Nurkic. More importantly, the Blazers are currently eighth in the West and with only two road games left, have one of the easier schedules to close out the season. Denver meanwhile has four road games and have to play tough opponents like the Rockets, Heat and Mavericks. The Nuggets also have to play the Thunder twice to close our their season.

The Blazers do have to play the Jazz twice and also have a game against the Spurs. But one of those games against Utah and the one against San Antonio is in the final week of the season, so it is very likely that both teams will rest their stars, making it a bit easier for Portland to secure wins.

This look at the schedule basically boils down to the Nuggets having a rather large uphill climb if they want to make the playoffs and they put themselves in this hole themselves by trading Nurkic to the Blazers. It was a move that essentially doomed Denver’s playoff hopes and is one for which the Nuggets can only blame themselves

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