The Trail Blazers have been riddled with injuries throughout the season, which has played a huge factor in their disappointing 28-35 record after making a trip to the Western Conference finals last postseason. Zach Collins has been sidelined since October after dislocating his shoulder which later required surgery. Rodney Hood will be out for the remainder of the season after tearing his left Achilles in December, and the team was still awaiting the return of starting center Jusuf Nurkic after he suffered a gruesome compound leg fracture last March.
Nothing has gone right in the way of injuries for the Blazers this season, but as they fight for the final playoff spot out West, they'll be getting some help at the perfect time. After returning to practice in January, Nurkic will be making his season debut on March 15, nearly a year after sustaining a broken leg, Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reports.
"I'm ready to help my team make the playoffs," Nurkic said. "It's time."
The 7-footer from Bosnia and Herzegovina was in the midst of a career season before that injury struck last year. He averaged 15.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists for the Blazers and was proving to be a quality third option behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The Blazers were able to make the conference finals without Nurkic last season, but were outmatched in the Warriors as they were swept in four games.
Knowing that Nurkic would miss a significant period of time this season, the Blazers tried to shore up their frontcourt by trading for Hassan Whiteside to step into Nurkic's role. While Whiteside is having the best year of his career since 2017, having a center who can't contribute outside of the post isn't ideal for a team with shooting threats like Lillard and McCollum. Now, with Nurkic's return on the horizon, Portland will have to figure out how both centers fit into the game plan for the remainder of the season.
"I don't know the plans going forward, but my mind is on how I'm going to help this team make the playoffs," Nurkic said. "We just need to sacrifice our games for the team's good, do the little things that don't show on the stat sheet and put our games together for possibly the playoffs. We have a chance, and when you have a chance, you've got to go get it."
Nurkic told Haynes that seeing the team struggle this season motivated him even more to get back out on the court sooner, but he knew that rushing it would only make things worse in the long run. With him back in the fold, this immediately gives Portland a great shot at sneaking into that No. 8 spot in the Western Conference, as it sits just 3.5 games back of the Memphis Grizzlies who are dealing with injuries of their own. Now that Damian Lillard has fully returned from a groin injury that sidelined him for six games, the Blazers look like they're trending in the right direction as the season winds down.
There will understandably be some rust that Nurkic will have to work through when he returns to game action, but having him back is a huge win for Portland.