Blazers Still Down Starters Despite Players Exiting COVID Health and Safety Protocols
After losing to the Lakers in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve, the Portland Trail Blazers had Saturday and Sunday off before playing their first game of 2022 Monday night versus the Atlanta Hawks at Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m. on ROOT Sports and 620 AM). And with the availability of players and coaches changing literally every day due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, let’s recap who will and won’t be suiting up in the Portland’s first game of the new year.
After missing the last three games due to health and safety protocols, Robert Covington, Trendon Watford and Keljin Blevins are all available to play Monday night versus the Hawks. Anfernee Simons, who missed Friday’s loss to the Lakers due to health and safety protocols, has also been cleared to play Monday night, a result of the changes the NBA has made to the rules regarding how long players must sit out after returning a positive test.
As for the coaching staff, head coach Chauncey Billups has cleared health and safety protocols and is cleared to return to the sideline for Monday’s game after missing the last three games.
On the health and safety protocol front, Brandon Williams and Cameron McGriff, both signed out of the G-League to 10-day hardship contracts, are out for Monday’s game. The team announced their signings, along with Jarron Cumberland, on December 26, which would make Tuesday, December 4 the 10th day. There’s has been no indication whether the team will bring Cumberland, Williams and McGriff back for second 10-day contracts, sign new players to 10-day contracts or try to get by with the 16 players they have under contract (14 NBA contracts and two two-way contacts).
Then there’s Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who will not play in Monday’s game for non-COVID reasons. Lillard will sit out as the team tries to managed the abdominal tendinopathy issue that has severely limited the 6-3 point guard out of Weber State this season. As for McCollum, he will miss his 11th games with right lung pneumothorax, an injury he sustained in Portland’s 147-117 loss to the Celtics on December 4.
Then there’s Portland’s coaching staff. Scott Brooks, who served as acting head coach while Billups recovered from COVID, Roy Rogers and Steve Hetzel are all out for Monday’s game.
As for the Hawks, they will be without Bogdan Bogdanovic, John Collins, Gorgui Dieng, Malik Ellison and Jalen Johnson due to health and safety protocols. Solomon Hill (right hamstring) and De'Andre Hunter (right wrist) are also out.
One of the most pressing issues the Trail Blazers have encountered in the last week with players going in and out of the lineup due to COVID-19 is a lack of size. That might situation might improve for Monday’s game with both Jusuf Nurkic and Cody Zeller listed as questionable with health and safety protocols. One presumes the hope is that both players might reach the required number of negative test results and/or result that show CT values of 30.0 or greater.
Nurkic, who has started all 32 games he’s appeared in this season, has missed the last three games due to health and safety protocols -- UPDATE: Nurkic tweeted Monday afternoon that he has cleared protocols and will play Monday night versus Atlanta. Zeller hasn’t played since Portland’s 102-90 loss to the Clippers on December 6 due to small fracture in his right patella. There has been no update on the status of that injury, though if he’s listed as questionable due to health and safety protocols, that would seem to indicate he’s able to play through the patellar fracture.
All told, the Trail Blazers could have as many as 16 players available for Monday’s game and as few as 14. They will be down at least two starters -- Lillard and McCollum -- and potentially three if Nurkic is unable to play.