Jusuf Nurkic essentially ends Nuggets’ playoff hopes with monster performance against old team

Nuggets coach Michael Malone summed it up nicely after the game when he said, “Jusuf Nurkic kicked our ass.”

CHRISTIAN-lighter
Jusuf Nurkic scored a career high 31 against his old team Tuesday. (Craig Mitchelldyer/USA Today Sports)

Jusuf Nurkic scored a career high 31 against his old team Tuesday. (Craig Mitchelldyer/USA Today Sports)

“JU-SUF NUR-KIC”

Clap-clap-clap-clap-clap

“JU-SUF NUR-KIC”

Clap-clap-clap-clap-clap

That was the way Portland fans serenaded Jusuf Nurkic at the free-throw line in the final minute of the Trail Blazers’ 122-113 over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. The game was out of reach at that point, and Nurkic was putting the final touches on a spectacular 33-point, 16-rebound night. Nurkic was nearly through helping Portland deal a death blow to Denver in the race for the Western Conference’s final playoff seed.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone summed it up nicely afterward when he said, “Jusuf Nurkic kicked our ass.”

Roughly a month and a half after Nurkic pouted his way out of Denver, he played perhaps the finest game of his young career against his former team. He shot 12-for-15 from the floor, eclipsed his previous career high of 28 and out-played Nikola Jokic, the center the Nuggets chose to keep over him.

So it goes for the Denver Nuggets.

They face long odds of making the postseason now; FiveThirty Eight says they have just a 7 percent chance. They need to make up two games on Portland, which has a much easier schedule, with eight games to go. Their season essentially ended Tuesday thanks in large part to a player who was petulant enough to actually leave the game and drive home because he was incensed about playing time while he was still in Denver.

Nurkic poured salt in the wound after the game when he tongue-in-cheek wished “those guys a happy summer.”

It was shade to the Nth degree.

The Nuggets now have but a prayer of making the postseason for the first time since 2013. Even if they don’t, there’s still a lot to like about this team moving forward.

Jokic, who finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, looks like a cornerstone worth building around. Gary Harris, who had 19 on 8-of-14 shooting, has quietly become one of the best young shooting guards in the league. Jamal Murray and Juancho Hernangomez both showed flashes this year; they are just 20 and 21 years old. There’s real promise there.

Still, Tuesday night had to hurt. A couple months after deserting the Nuggets during a game, Nurkic played a big part in effectively ending the Nuggets’ playoff hopes — all the while providing proof that karma is an iffy concept.

Subscribe to Denverite’s weekly sports newsletter here.