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Jusuf Nurkic’s emergence in Portland could cost the Nuggets a playoff appearance and a draft pick

When the Portland Trail Blazers shipped Mason Plumlee to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first-round pick, it seemed like they were waiving the the white flag in their playoff hunt.

The Trail Blazers, then nine games below .500, were shipping their starting center to their top competitor for the No. 8 spot in exchange for a skilled, younger big man and a projected mid-first round pick in the upcoming draft. It seemed the focus had shifted to building for the future.

But in their 114-109 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday, Portland reaffirmed its desire to challenge for a playoff appearance this season.

The Trail Blazers staved off a 45-point effort from Russell Westbrook, showing much of what’s been missing from an otherwise disappointing season. Nurkic’s skill set, though, has shined through not only against the Thunder, but in his previous four games with Portland as well.

“He gives us something we haven’t had for the last two years,” Lillard said of Nurkic on Friday, according to The Oregonian’s Sean Meagher.

And the trades presented by Mortensen as possibilities are certainly valuable.

One scenario has the Titans simply trading their first-round pick (No. 18 overall) for Cooks, who was the Saints’ 20th pick in the first round of the 2014 draft. Another scenario, per sources, has the two teams swapping slots in the first round, involving the Titans moving from the No. 5 pick (acquired from the Rams) to the Saints’ 11th pick, with another pick or two also in play.

New Orleans hasn’t been shy about sending away playmakers, because the offense has always thrived without them. In 2015, tight end Jimmy Graham was sent to the Seattle Seahawks for a first-round pick and center Max Unger, and days later Kenny Stills was traded to the Miami Dolphins for a third-round pick and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.9

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