The broadcasters on the YES Network gave viewers a warning last night: “We’re only going to show this to you twice, and then we are not going to show this again.”
Jusuf Nurkic suffered a gruesome compound leg fracture late Monday night in the Trail Blazers’ double-overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets, and injury that had Nets players walking away in shock before Nurkic was wheeled off on a stretcher.
It is a devastating blow to a team with legitimate Western Conference playoff aspirations, and the trick now will be finding someone to back up Enes Kanter as the starting center.
Portland is fourth in the Western Conference playoff race, just a half-game behind the Houston Rockets. But C.J. McCollum will not travel on their upcoming four-game road trip as the Blazers will face the Bulls, Hawks, Pistons and Wolves. That rules McCollum out until at least April 4th. Coach Terry Stotts said that McCollum is “progressing well,” but there’s no guarantee he returns before the end of the regular season.
Kanter, meanwhile, finished Monday’s win over Brooklyn with 12 points (4-of-8 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), 10 rebounds, three assists and two 3-pointers in 21 minutes. The double-double is Kanter’s second in his last three outings, and he also made multiple 3-pointers in the same game for the first time this season.
Nurkic sustained compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula with 2:22 remaining in the second overtime.
In 72 games this season (all starts), Nurkic averaged career highs of 15.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.00 steal to go with 1.40 blocks. He shot a career-best 50.8% from the field and 77.3% from the foul line. Nurkic posted a career-high 36 double-doubles and led the Trail Blazers in rebounds 46 times, assists 12 times and points eight times. He ranks 15th in the NBA in rebounding and 16th in blocks.
The Western Conference standings are a logjam, and the playoff matchups will likely not be decided until the final night of the season, just as they were a year ago. Entering Tuesday night’s full NBA slate, the Jazz and Clippers are tied for fifth place with identical 44-30 records, and San Antonio and Oklahoma City are 43-31.
Of course, playoff seedings in the East and West would be an entirely different thing if the NBA came to its senses and ranked teams 1-16 irrespective of conference and played a combination of East vs. East, West vs. West and East vs. West, but that makes too much sense for a league that is drunk on money.
As it is, we are going to have the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and maybe even the Charlotte Hornets in the playoffs, and with the way the top Eastern Conference teams keep losing games they should be winning, the chances of a first-round upset are higher than one might expect.
If the Blazers want to go shopping for a big man to replace Nurkic, they could look to China, where Jared Sullinger was averaging 27.3 points, 13 rebounds and 1 block for Shenzhen, which is down 1-0 to the Beijing Ducks the quarterfinals of the CBA playoffs. Sullinger, however, suffered a back injury when he was undercut in an earlier game and may not be ready to play until next season.
Already, Jimmer Fredette has left China to sign with the Phoenix Suns, and Donatas Montiejunas has signed with the Spurs for the playoffs. Justin Hamilton of the Beijing Ducks may be an option after the Chinese playoffs have ended.
The best free agent big man out there is Marcin Gortat, but what is worth watching is whether Greg Monroe stays with the Celtics after his 10-day contract expires.
If Monroe leaves the Celtics, he could then sign with Portland and be playoff-eligible. As it stands now, Meyers Leonard and Zach Collins are the Blazers’ backup big men, but you can never have enough options when it comes to making it through the two-month grind that is the NBA playoffs. Portland would have to waive a player to open up a roster spot, and Skal Labissiere is the most likely candidate.
Whatever the case, Nurkic’s injury was as painful to watch as Gordon Hayward’s broken leg on the opening night of the NBA season two years ago, or Paul George’s broken leg at a Team USA exhibition game in Las Vegas three years ago … and injury that was discussed in this article for GetMoreSports.com.
Injuries are part of basketball, but gruesome injuries are a whole different thing.
Everyone from Portland to Bosnia-Herzegovina will be rooting and praying that Nurkic makes a full recovery, but the fact of the matter is that it may take at least a year before we see him play again.
In the meantime, it is on GM Neil Olshey of the Blazers to find a replacement that will keep Portland’s championship hopes alive. We are a long way from June, and Nurkic’s injury is not the last one we will see before a new NBA champion is crowned.