After Jusuf Nurkic’s season came to an end due to breaking his left leg in the second overtime of a 148-144 victory versus the Brooklyn Nets at the Moda Center on March 25, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts made a point of noting that while his starting center might not be able to return to the court for some time, that he is still “a big part of our team.”
At Saturday’s practice, Portland’s last before Game One of their first round playoff matchup versus the Oklahoma City Thunder (tipoff scheduled for Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on ABC), Nurkić rejoined his team for the first time at their practice facility in Tualatin.
“He came in during the film sessions, surprised everybody,” said Trail Blazers forward Moe Harkless. “It was pretty cool. He spent some time with us, so it was definitely good to see him outside of his house, moving around and in a better mood.”
Players and coaches have stayed in regular contact with Nurkic and have visited him on multiple occasions at his home, though Saturday was the first time the gregarious big man joined the team for game preparation. Between the team leaving for an extended trip right after the injury and the realities that come with a man of Nurkić’s size getting around on crutches, it’s not surprising that Saturday was the first time he was with the team, though the sight was certainly welcomed.
“He just said what’s up to everybody,” said Harkless. “Told Coach he figured he might need a little help. It was fun though, you know Nurk, he keeps it light all the time. You could tell he was in a better mood than he has been.”
Multiple players mentioned that Nurkić seemed to be in better spirits on Saturday than he had been in previous interactions. Considering the nature and timing of the injury, it’s only natural that Nurkić, whose year-over-year improvement was arguably the most important factor in Portland increasing their win total by four games during the 2018-19 season, would struggle somewhat with being away from his friends and teammates. Devoting so much time and effort into a season, only to have it abruptly end with just 12 games and the playoff remaining, would be enough to darken even those with the sunniest dispositions.
So while the team surely got a boost from seeing “the Bosnian Beast,” the visit likely served to buoy his spirits more so than the other way around.
“I thought it was great,” said CJ McCollum. “It was good to see the big fella outside of the house. Seems like his spirits are high, he’s doing things the right way, he’s rehabbing well and mentally he seems engaged. I’m looking forward to seeing him around more often.”