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Blazers' Jusuf Nurkic speaks out on fan criticism of Meyers Leonard

From NBA media reports

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Airballing a 3-pointer is the sort of thing that will get even a popular player booed by the home crowd on occasion. But in Meyers Leonard’s case, there’s been an ongoing edge to such Portland fan reaction and it’s been more than just occasional.

So much so that teammate Jusuf Nurkic, already bummed about the Trail Blazers’ loss to Milwaukee (and a late, seemingly clean block of a dunk attempt by the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo that was called a foul), felt compelled to speak up for Leonard afterward. Here is part of Jason Quick’s report for NBCSports.com:

Leonard, who entered the game for the first time in the third quarter and the Blazers trailing by 19, was booed by some in the Moda Center crowd after he airballed a three-pointer.

Afterward, Nurkic – unprompted – stood up for Leonard.

“It’s tough when you have fans who boo Meyers for no reason,’’ Nurkic said. “If they boo him, boo everybody. Don’t just boo the guy who just missed a shot. It’s not good. We don’t look good. Overall … I missed a shot. Dame missed a shot. Everybody missed a shot. I think does not deserve to be booed for no reason.’’

Leonard, who has become a lightening rod for fan discontent, finished 1-for-3 from the field and grabbed three rebounds in 8:19 of action.

Leonard was showering when Nurkic made his comments, and when told afterward what Nurkic said, Leonard was moved.

“Honestly, I appreciate Nurk saying something,’’ Leonard said. “That’s huge. I mean, for the people who boo …yeah. Truly, in my down-home country roots, I have some nasty words for those people. But I’m going to keep it professional.’’

Kerry Eggers, longtime Portland sportswriter and former Blazers beat man for The Oregonian, provided some context on the anti-Leonard sentiments wafting through the Moda Center in his post-game piece for the Portland Tribune:

Leonard has become the whipping boy for a portion of Blazer fans over the last four seasons. After a promising rookie campaign in 2012-13 — in which he had a 50/40/90 year — Leonard’s performance has been below expectations. Many fans would like to see Leonard — in the second year of a four-year, $41-million contract — shown the door.

I’ll say this about Leonard: Nobody on the Blazers works harder than the 7-1 center/forward. Nobody wants to help the team win more. Nobody on the team enjoys being a part of the community more. He is a good person, a man of integrity, a family man whom I hold a great deal of respect for.

Because he so wants to do well, Leonard puts too much pressure on himself. It’s a shame, because he’s a very talented, athletic “big” who could become a major contributor if he’d just relax and let it happen.

Nurkic is a golden boy in the city now. He gains nothing by complaining about the fans’ reaction to a teammate. He lashed out, though, because he genuinely felt bad for Leonard, risking the fans’ wrath for making his feelings known.

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