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Damian Lillard: Blazers Had a Shot to Beat Warriors, Win Title with Jusuf Nurkic

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistMay 21, 2019

PORTLAND, OREGON - MAY 20: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers handles the ball during the second half against the Golden State Warriors in game four of the NBA Western Conference Finals at Moda Center on May 20, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

After his Portland Trail Blazers were swept out of the Western Conference Finals by the Golden State Warriors, Damian Lillard said his squad had the ability to beat the two-time defending NBA champions.

Per B/R's Sean Highkin, Lillard felt the absence of Jusuf Nurkic played a key role in Portland's series loss.

"In my mind, this was a shot for us to win it all," the Blazers star said. "I thought we could have beaten the Warriors. If we had Nurk, it would be a completely different situation."

Nurkic's season ended early when he suffered a compound fracture in his left tibia and fibula during a March 25 game against the Brooklyn Nets.

The Ringer's Paolo Uggetti noted the day after Nurkic went down that Portland's net rating was more than 15 points better with him on the court (plus-10.4 to minus-5.0).

Losing Nurkic did change head coach Terry Stotts' rotation and defense. The 24-year-old led the team with 10.4 rebounds per game and ranked third with 15.6 points per game.

Enes Kanter, who is an offense-first big man, became the Blazers' primary center, with Zach Collins coming off the bench. Each player broke the 20-minute mark once in four games against Golden State.

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In Game 4, Meyers Leonard played the role of hero with 25 points in the first half. The Warriors adjusted, though, limiting him to five points after the break.

Lillard's frustration is certainly understandable after a memorable playoff run. The Blazers hadn't advanced to the Western Conference Finals since 1999-2000 and were at least hoping to be competitive against the Warriors.

Instead, Portland will enter an uncertain offseason with Kanter, Al-Farouq Aminu, Rodney Hood and Seth Curry eligible for free agency.

As long as the Blazers still have Lillard, a healthy Nurkic and CJ McCollum, they will be competitive. But the rest of their roster will likely feature some turnover before the 2019-20 season begins.

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