Nurkic injury forces Blazers revamp
The Trail Blazers, unlike many teams in the NBA, had skated free of a serious injury for quite a while. Until Monday night.
The Blazers lost center Jusuf Nurkic to a broken leg.
"It's going to be hard on our team," guard Damian Lillard said in a hushed Portland locker room after Monday's game against the Brooklyn Nets. "Every way you look at it, it's a blow."
The look of the team for the rest of this season and into next season will change significantly due to the compound fractures to Nurkic's left tibia and fibula, suffered in the middle of the second overtime period at Moda Center.
If only the Blazers had been able to finish off the Nets in the first OT. If only Seth Curry had been able to make two free throws instead of just one with 3.5 seconds left in regulation. If, if, if.
Silver linings? The Blazers clinched a playoff berth with their 148-144 win (though the real question is whether they can hang on to home court advantage in the first round; through Monday they were fourth in the West, 2 1/2 games ahead of Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers). They still have Lillard. They have 6-11 Enes Kanter, thanks to him signing with the club on Feb. 13. And they have 7-1 Meyers Leonard, who was playing arguably the best basketball of his career before going to the bench behind Kanter in the pecking order, along with Zach Collins, a 7-footer and second-year pro who now might show he was worth being selected No. 10 overall in the 2017 draft.
Minutes are seemingly up for grabs, with coach Terry Stotts also able to consider stretches of relative small ball that could get the scoring threat of Curry, recent acquisition Rodney Hood and Evan Turner even more consistently into the mix and game plans. Maybe, in some shuffled system, Jake Layman gets a few more opportunities as well.
Kanter will get to show he can produce as a starter for Portland and in longer stretches, even though he doesn't have the chemistry with Lillard that Nurkic had developed or Nurkic's range. Kanter went into Wednesday's game at Chicago — the start of a four-game trip — averaging 18.5 minutes in 15 games as a Blazer and at 10.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game with a .541 field-goal shooting percentage.
Leonard was averaging 5.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 14.2 minutes this season, shooting .539 from the floor and .466 on 3-pointers. He and Collins can offer different looks as well as a combined 12 fouls to use on defense.
Forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless will have to keep up their contributions and help even more defensively and in rebounding.
A run to the Western Conference finals just got more difficult, but it's unwise to immediately count out Lillard or Stotts or a club with a lot of continuity and talent at other positions.
Winterhawks: Portland forward Joachim Blichfeld is the WHL Western Conference Player of the Year, and forward Cody Glass has won the Brad Hornung Trophy as the Western Conference's Most Sportsmanlike Player. Blichfeld and Glass also made first-team all-conference as selected by WHL general managers.
• The Winnipeg Ice obtained the first pick in the 2019 WHL bantam draft in a March 21 lottery. After 21 seasons in Cranbrook, British Columbia, the franchise is moving to Winnipeg. The Hawks' first pick in the May draft will be the 14th of the second round.
Timbers: In last week's 3-1 Timbers 2 victory over Las Vegas, 23-year-old forward Foster Langsdorf made life difficult for the defenders just about every time he touched the ball inside the penalty area. That's where the second-year homegrown player is particularly effective.
Also for T2 coach Cameron Knowles, having a veteran such as Roy Miller on defense is a nice luxury. Miller, who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during a Timbers training session in October 2017, signed with T2 after spending the preseason with the Timbers.
T2 have started their second-division season with two wins and a draw. They are in a much better place than the MLS club, which has one tie in three games and has given up 10 goals already heading into Sunday's 6 p.m. game at the 2-1-0 Los Angeles Galaxy.
Mariners: Seattle, off to a 2-0 start after two wins over Oakland at Tokyo last week — the final games of retiring outfielder Ichiro Suzuki's career — will resume MLB regular-season play at 4 p.m. Thursday with the first of four home games against the Boston Red Sox. Scheduled starters are left-handers Chris Sale for Boston and Marco Gonzales of Seattle. Other games are 7 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. PT.
Ex-Oregon Duck Ryon Healy helped Seattle sweep in Japan by going 3 for 9 with a home run and three RBIs.
IndyCar: Colton Herta, an 18-year-old rookie with Harding Steinbrenner Racing, became the youngest winner ever in the series, claiming the IndyCar Classic on Sunday. The Andretti Autosport driver held off runner-up Josef Newgarden of Team Penske and third-place Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport over the final 10 laps at Circuit of the Americas, a new permanent road course in Austin, Texas.
It was the second race of the 17-event series, which includes the Grand Prix of Portland on Sept. 1 at Portland International Raceway.
The previous youngest IndyCar winner was Graham Rahal, who was 19 years, 93 days old when he broke through in 2008. Herta will turn 19 on Saturday.
College baseball: Oregon State (3-3 Pac-12) visits Washington (5-1) for games Friday-Sunday. … Oregon (2-4) has nonleague games set for Provo, Utah, on Tuesday against BYU (17-5 overall) and Wednesday vs. Utah Valley (5-18), before a three-game set at Utah (7-12, 1-5 Pac-12). … The Portland Pilots (1-5 West Coast Conference) welcome Loyola Marymount (14-8, 5-1 WCC) to Joe Etzel Field for league games at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon Sunday.
College softball: Oregon, 11-15 and on an 11-game slide going into its Wednesday game at the University of the Pacific, takes on host Stanford (21-4) for three games, Friday-Sunday. … Oregon State (17-10, 1-5 Pac-12, five losses in a row) is at Washington (24-6, 2-3) for three games, Friday-Sunday. … Portland State (9-17, 0-2 Big Sky) will be at Gordon Faber Recreation Complex in Hillsboro for three conference games against Northern Colorado (5-25, 0-2). The teams are set for a 1 p.m. Friday doubleheader and a noon Saturday game.
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