The Portland Trail Blazers’ dreams of contending for a Western Conference title, and potentially an NBA title, likely ended Monday night.
Center Jusuf Nurkic suffered a horrific compound fracture to the tibia and fibula in his lower left leg midway through the second overtime during the Blazers’ 148-144 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
Jusuf Nurkic Broken Leg Deflates Trail Blazers
Nurkic undoubtedly will miss the rest of the regular season and postseason, ending what had been a career year for the 7-foot Bosnian and almost certainly dashing any hopes the Blazers had of competing in the gauntlet of the Western Conference playoffs.
The Blazers clinched a playoff spot with the win, but reserve center Enes Kanter admitted that the team could not celebrate because Nurkic “was a big part of our family -- not our team, our family,” The Oregonian reported.
Nurkic’s raw numbers were outstanding in the 2018-19 season. He was averaging career highs in points (15.6), rebounds (10.4), assists (3.2), steals (1.0) and blocks (1.4) per game in his second full season with the Blazers.
He had finally given Portland a third option to complement star backcourt duo Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, and the Blazers offense was a whopping 9.8 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor. The defense had been 6.2 points better with him on the floor, too.
Simply put, he was a necessary piece to head coach Terry Stotts’ puzzle in the West.
C.J. McCollum Also Out for Trail Blazers
Portland also is dealing with an injury to McCollum, who has missed the past four games – and will miss the next four – with a left knee sprain.
McCollum might return for the playoffs, but Nurkic’s injury still stings for the Trail Blazers as they jockey for position in a close West race.
With Monday’s heavy-hearted win, the Blazers held a 2.5-game lead on the No. 4 spot in the West and critical homecourt advantage in the first round.
Six of their last nine games come against non-playoff teams so there’s still a chance for them to fend off the clustered 5-8 seeds the rest of the regular season, but they’ll need a ton from Lillard to keep it that way.
They’ll bank on a number of players to help fill the void, including midseason acquisitions Kanter and Rodney Hood. It also helps that Stotts and the Blazers are getting as much bench production as Stotts has ever had in Portland.
A bevy of bigs including Kanter, Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard, along with versatile forward Moe Harkless, will attempt to fill Nurkic’s minutes and production.
Portland Already Had Long Odds to Dethrone Golden State
It’s not as though the Blazers were NBA betting favorites. Portland had +4000 odds to win the Western Conference and +6000 odds to win the 2019 championship on NBA Finals betting from most major bookmakers.
But Portland has beaten Golden State and Houston twice each this season and has won seven of its past eight, giving the Blazers plenty of upset potential. That all feels like a pipe dream without Nurkic and potentially McCollum if his knee sprain lingers into the second week of April.
There was an outside shot this team could have kept the ball rolling into April and May by grabbing the No. 3 seed and advancing as far as the West finals against the Warriors.
Now the Blazers will simply hope to avoid another embarrassing first-round exit like they had a year ago against the New Orleans Pelicans, unless Lillard and Stotts can pull off something miraculous.