Blazers face Bulls in first game without Nurkic
The playoff-bound Portland Trail Blazers will begin to navigate life without injured center Jusuf Nurkic on Wednesday night as they open a four-game road trip against the Chicago Bulls.
Nurkic suffered compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula while attempting a tip-in during Monday's double-overtime victory against the Brooklyn Nets and was lost for the season, the Blazers announced.
A 24-year-old 7-footer originally drafted by Chicago in 2014, Nurkic was enjoying a career year for Portland, averaging personal bests in points (15.6) and rebounds (10.4). He left the Brooklyn game midway through the second overtime after contributing 32 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and four blocks to what proved to be a postseason berth-clinching win.
Portland players and coaches balanced conflicting emotions after the game. They knew they were bound for the Western Conference playoffs, but struggled to grasp that they would be without a teammate and friend.
"Every little thing about the game and about the NBA season and NBA career, it's fragile," Blazers guard Damian Lillard said. "You can be on a team one day, gone the next. You can be healthy one day, injured the next. Have a job one day, fired the next. It's a lot of things about the game that's fragile and that's one of them; it's one of the more unfortunate ones."
The Blazers (46-27) enter play on a four-game winning streak and battling the Houston Rockets for third place in the West.
For now, Portland's push for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs will also exclude guard CJ McCollum, who remains out with a left knee strain he suffered on March 16. Although Blazers coach Terry Stotts told reporters that McCollum's recovery was "progressing well," McCollum hasn't reached a level where he is able to play and won't travel for a trip that also includes stops in Atlanta, Detroit and Minnesota, Stotts said.
Chicago (21-54) also has experienced its share of injuries while populating the opposite end of the standings spectrum. The Bulls again were without guard Zach LaVine (thigh) and forward Otto Porter Jr. (shoulder) during Tuesday's 112-103 road loss to the Toronto Raptors, the team's second straight defeat and seventh in nine games.
Guard Kris Dunn missed the game with a back injury after struggling through the ailment in a 114-83 home loss to the Utah Jazz on Saturday.
"I couldn't be as aggressive as I wanted to be," Dunn said. "I couldn't move very well. I couldn't fight through screens as I normally do. I just tried to give it my all, really."
The Bulls drilled eight 3-pointers against the Raptors after tying an NBA season low with just two treys in the Jazz game. Lauri Markkanen contributed one trey in Toronto before leaving the game in the first half with an illness.
"We want to take good shots; we want to move the ball. We don't want to play in a crowd," Chicago coach Jim Boylen said. "We have some guys who we like to take corner 3s and some guys we like to take arc 3s and some guys we don't like to take 3s. Some of that is about role definition, but nobody is telling our guys not to take open 3s. We just have to get more of them."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 27, 2019