As the Portland Trail Blazers contemplate ways to counter the aggressive, harassing defense of the New Orleans Pelicans — and fight back from a 1-0 deficit in the best-of-seven playoff series — Jusuf Nurkic could be a focal point of the adjustments.
The Blazers’ center looked overmatched and passive as the Pelicans stole a 97-95 victory and home-court advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, a hard-to-swallow reality he pledged to change in Game 2.
“I need to be more aggressive, there is no doubt about it,” Nurkic said. “I feel the last game I didn’t (play) that aggressive.”
No Blazers player has a more difficult matchup in the series than Nurkic, who has been tasked with slowing down All-Star big man Anthony Davis. But perhaps no Blazers player has a greater opportunity, either. The Pelicans have made it abundantly clear their defensive game plan begins and ends with stopping Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and the bevy of blitzes and double-teams they sent at the Blazers’ dynamic backcourt in Game 1 will no doubt continue into Game 2.
As the Pelicans scheme to stop the duo, Nurkic, much like Mason Plumlee in the 2016 playoff series against the L.A. Clippers, will have a chance to change the series.
In Game 1, Blazers guards regularly passed out of the double teams to Nurkic in the middle of the defense, leaving him with two enticing options: Attack the basket against a smaller, inferior defender, or kick the ball to the…