The passionate fans of Rip City won’t say it, but I will: The Golden State Warriors are a much better basketball team than the Portland Trail Blazers, with or without Jusuf Nurkic.
That’s not a knock on this Portland Trail Blazers team, despite only sneaking into the playoffs as a nail-bitter eight seed. Instead, it’s a testament to this historically great Golden State Warriors team.
With five scoring titles, three MVP awards, and a combined 20 All-Star appearances, it’s fair to say that this Warriors team is one of the best ever on paper, and equally great on the hardwood.
The Trail Blazers? Well, all they have to show are two All-Star appearances, thanks to Damian Lillard. That’s all.
There’s no denying that Portland stepped up its game after the addition of Nurkic, who lead the Trail Blazers to an impressive 13-3 record in the month of March. He saved Portland’s postseason chances; can he save them again in the first round of the playoffs?
There are two different aspects to this argument. First, what’s the health of Nurkic? Is his nondisplaced right leg fibular fracture completely healed?
Secondly, will the Bosnian Beast provide enough fire power to steal not only a game, but the series away from the Warriors?
Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, Brandon Roy. Three names every Trail Blazers fan knows. Three promising careers that were ruined by injury. Three big reasons for Portland to hold out on playing Nurkic.
It’s no secret that NBA big men are especially susceptible to severe lower body injuries. Even more so for big men in Portland. Luckily, Nurkic’s injury was not nearly as severe as the various ones Rip City has witnessed throughout the years.
Nurkic was originally expected to miss at least two weeks. Today, April 21, marks the beginning of week three since his March 31 diagnosis.
Take a step back and analyze this situation from a whole and ask yourself: With the risk of re-injury, do you want Nurkic on the court if his health status is at anything less than 100 percent? This isn’t an ailing wrist injury that could be taped up, mind you. This is a leg fracture on running, jumping, and dunking 7’0”, 280-pound frame.
There is no reason to risk a serious aggravated leg injury to one of the most promising centers Portland has seen in many, many years. This isn’t game 7 of the series. This is game 3 of a series where you’re down 0-2 against the favorites to win the NBA championship.
For the sake of hypotheticals, let’s put the injury talk aside and assume that Nurkic’s injury is 100 percent healed and he’s ready to take the court. Will Nurkic be able to lead Portland to a historical first-round upset?
OSN’s Bryant Knox perfectly sums up my thoughts on the performance-end of Nurkic possibly playing in this series:
“Assuming the big man plays, we’re not expecting the same kind of showing we’ve seen from him since joining Rip City.
For starters, Nurkic has dealt with conditioning issues since the trade. His time in Denver ended badly with his minutes decreasing, and as a result, he didn’t come to Portland with the best conditioning.
Combine that with the fact that the Warriors run an incredibly fast-paced system and that he’s been out of the lineup recovering and you have a recipe for an underwhelming postseason debut.”
Knox went on to say:
“…if he suits up at any point, he’ll be rendered useless against a Warriors squad that will take full advantage of the fact that he’s out of shape.”
It’s a terrifying thought — that the Trail Blazers could be helpless in this series, even if they were to get their saint of a center back in the lineup. But it’s a realistic one.
To get a win over the Warriors, Portland, or any team for that matter, will need a perfect storm to occur. Usually, a poor shooting night from a star player is enough to sink a team in the NBA. Sometimes it’s a duo of players who must struggle, which you’ll find true with most playoff teams. But in order to stop the Warriors, you’ve got to get Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green all off of their games.
Again, this isn’t a knock on Portland as much as it is a testament to how good Golden State really is.
If Nurkic isn’t 100 percent, shut him down for the year. There is not a single valid reason for Portland to risk a serious aggravated injury.
If Nurkic is 100 percent, well, don’t expect him to lead the Trail Blazers to a series comeback over one of the best NBA rosters to ever be assembled.
You’ll be glad the Trail Blazers preserved the health of their long-awaited franchise center when they make a promising playoff push in 2018.