The Portland Trail Blazers had teetered on the edge of the playoffs since a pre-NBA trade deadline reshuffling, but will be aiming for the top of the draft after some bad news about their two top players
The Portland Trail Blazers’ two best players all but saw their seasons come to an end yesterday, with Jusuf Nurkic bowing out of the lineup for at least four weeks and Damian Lillard telling Sports Illustrated he wasn’t “in a rush” to get back to action after abdominal surgery.
Nurkic’s injury was listed as plantar fasciitis, a common injury for big men that the team claims has been bothering him since September. If that was the case, they should give it to him in both feet because he had been gaining strength and increasing his output throughout the season.
The Bosnian Beast finally began living up to his nickname in December with averages of 14.8 points and 8.1 rebounds in 27.4 minutes. But he has exploded in the 24 games he played in January and February, averaging 17.4 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game.
His plantar fake-itis didn’t prevent Nurkic from pulling down 20 rebounds against the Knicks two games before the All-Star break, or grabbing 22 against the Magic a few weeks ago. Nor did it keep him from posting 32 points against Memphis in the Blazers’ last game or 29 against Boston late last month.
While the news regarding Lillard is less surprising, the timing and predictability of both bits definitely lifts the curtain on interim general manager Joe Cronin’s intentions for the season’s final 23 games: lose as many of them as possible.
There could be as many as five instant-impact players at the top of the draft who could be contributors on a championship-caliber team right away; if the Blazers can fall far enough they’ll have a shot at one of them.
And if the Pelicans, seemingly stricken with an actual injury to their resident-for-now big man, Zion Williamson, could be right alongside in a late-season plummet that could also award the Blazers a second lottery pick.
Should that happen, expect one of the picks to be packaged along with Eric Bledsoe‘s buyout-able contract and maybe a young asset for an established power forward this summer. That will give Portland a big man to put next to Nurkic when his fictional injury has healed.