Trail Blazers’ fans have been holding their collective breath for the last two weeks in anticipation of an update on the status of center Jusuf Nurkić, who sat out the last seven games of the regular season with a non-displaced fracture in his right fibula. Those fans will have to hold their breath for a bit longer.
The Trail Blazers announced Friday afternoon that Nurkić’s availability for Game One of Portland’s first round playoff series versus the Golden State Warriors, set to tip off Sunday afternoon at 12:30 pm at Oracle Arena, is still to be determined. While the 7-0 big from Bosnian and Herzegovina said his condition was improving, the decision on whether he’ll be able to suit up and play come Sunday has not yet been decided.
“I feel better and I make good progress,” said Nurkić after Friday’s practice, “but I think we still not decide if I going to play.”
Or at least the team’s medical staff has not decided, as Nurkić said that if the decision were up to him, he’s be a go to play in Game One, which would be his first career playoff game.
“If it’s up to me, I play right now,” said Nurkić. “I do my part and I feel better. I make great progress the last couple of days but I’m not there yet so we still waiting on that right now, undecided.”
Nurkić played at least one game with the non-displaced fracture, going for 19 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in 32 minutes in a 117-107 victory versus the Houston Rockets on March 30. It wasn’t until he underwent an MRI the next day that the fracture, which Nurkić think he initially suffered during his career performance versus the Nuggets on March 28, was reveled.
Given that he played with the injury, it’s not surprising to hear Nurkić say he would play if he decision were his alone. But as is the case with most every decision a team makes with regard to injuries, that decision is made by the player, coaching and medical staff collectively.
“To be honest, I’m still waiting on the doc to tell me what’s going on,” said Nurkić. “Biggest key for me, I make good progress, I have still time so we’ll see.”
While the Trail Blazers are already heavy underdogs versus a Warriors team that finished with a league-best 67 wins and swept the season series, they’d be an even a longer shot without Nurkić, who’s acquisition at the end of February helped spark a last-season run that carried Portland to their fourth straight postseason.
“We’re obviously a much better team with him and that showed when we got him in that trade,” said Damian Lillard, who also noted that he doesn’t know whether Nurkić will play in Game One and has stopped asking. “But since he’s gone down a lot of guys have come in and kind of stepped up and that allowed us to secure a playoff spot. We’ve got to trust what we have and allow him the time to do what he needs to do to be healthy enough to play. Until then, we’ll go with what we’ve got.”
Without Nurkić, the Trail Blazers will likely look to Meyers Leonard, Noah Vonleh and Al-Farouq Aminu to fill in, especially when the Warriors go small, as they often do, by playing Draymond Green at center. But against a Warriors team with four All-Stars, Nurkić at center is arguably the only position where Portland holds an advantage, an advantage they could surely use come Sunday.
“We gonna show definitely if I’m going to play… that big guys matter in this league,” said Nurkić. “They first for a reason in the league, give them all respect. We happy to be here but we’re going to see what’s going on when we go out there. They have good players and I think we can compete, definitely.”