One of the league’s most improved players — of the last two months, anyway — received a setback and it’s catching the Trail Blazers at the wrong time.
Portland must fight for one of the final playoffs spots in the West without center Jusuf Nurkic perhaps for the rest of the regular season. The team announced he has a non-displaced right leg fibula fracture and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.
By then, will the Blazers be safely ahead of the Nuggets, his former team, for the final spot? Or will they miss their center who has made a big difference since arriving in a trade before the February deadline?
Nurkic has rejuvenated a once-sagging Blazers season, and his own young career as well, since leaving the Nuggets. The Blazers are 14-6 with him and he has averaged 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal over those 20 games.
Last year in Denver he played only 32 games due to a torn left patellar tendon and the fear around the league was that Nurkic, in addition to being possibly injury probe, wasn’t a hard worker.
He dispelled that second rap by becoming an instant hit with the Blazers and their fans. He had 28 points, 20 rebounds and eight assists in a breakout game against the Sixers. In his most recent game, he went for 19 points and 11 rebounds against the Rockets; unfortunately, that’s also when he suffered the injury.
The Blazers’ next three games are against the Hawks, Heat and Bucks, three teams in playoff position. They’ll also see the Rockets, Nuggets and Jazz before the season ends. The two-week projection would put Nurkic in uniform right around season’s end, but that’s a best-case scenario. It’s a tough blow for the Blazers who have finally done things right lately.