PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland center Jusuf Nurkic’s availability for the opening game of the Trail Blazers’ playoff series against the Golden State Warriors remains uncertain.
Nurkic has missed seven games with a non-displaced right leg fracture.
There had been speculation the 7-footer known as the Bosnian Beast could return for the playoffs. He was seen shooting during warmups for the past two regular-season games, and he’s walking with no apparent limp.
But Portland coach Terry Stotts said Friday that his status for the first-round opener in Oakland on Sunday was “undetermined.” He said it would likely be a game-day decision.
“I feel better and I’ve made good progress, but we still haven’t decided if I’m going to play,” Nurkic said.
Nurkic, traded to Portland on Feb. 12 from the Denver Nuggets, was averaging 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 20 games with the Blazers.
“Completely different team with him in there. So it changes everything. Obviously if he plays I’m sure I’ll be on him some. I foresee the game probably being a smaller game if he doesn’t play, whereas if he plays it turns into a bigger game,” the Warriors’ Draymond Green said following practice on Friday. “It changes everything whether he’s in or out.”
Since his arrival in Portland, Nurkic has been embraced by Portland fans. He’s credited with boosting the team as it made a final push for the playoffs: The Blazers finished in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, clinching a spot ahead of the Nuggets with two games left in the regular season. Before the All-Star break, the Blazers were 23-33 and it looked as if they were headed to the draft lottery in the offseason. Enter Nurkic.
Portland went 18-8 following the break and finished at .500. In a short time he seemed to develop chemistry with Portland’s starting backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and with Nurkic in the starting lineup, Portland was 14-5.
When Nurkic scored 28 points with 20 rebounds at home this season against Philadelphia, Stotts spoke about how fans had taken to the newcomer: “Nurkic fever? Why not?”
On the court afterward, Nurkic smiled when he was told about the coach’s comments. The crowd roared and a catchphrase was born.
“I love being here,” he said. “I appreciate what the city is doing for me. I just want to give them back something.”
Even while he was rehabbing from the injury, Nurkic endeared himself to fans by pouring cups of water over the heads of teammates when they appeared in postgame TV interviews.
Nurkic’s arrival in Portland wasn’t just good for the Blazers, it was good for the big man, too.
Taken with the 16th overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in 2014 but sent to Denver in a draft-night deal, he was hampered last season by a knee injury.
At the start of this season, Denver looked to use both Nikola Jokic and Nurkic at the same time in a big starting lineup. But the experiment never jelled, and Jokic got the bulk of the minutes while 22-year-old Nurkic averaged fewer than 18 minutes with eight points per game.