Spoiler:After Blazers lose again, Jusuf Nurkic is reluctant to offer hope on his return
INDIANAPOLIS — The longest game of hide-and-seek ended Thursday in Indianapolis.
Jusuf Nurkic, a victor for the past month by finding hiding places that protected him from the media, had been cornered inside the Trail Blazers’ locker room in Indiana. He smiled, knowing the gig was up.
“I have nothing to say,” the center told The Athletic, trying to squeeze out one more victory.
Some hope, some information, he was told, could go a long way these days with a fan base that has been deflated and discouraged by losses and injuries this season.
Reluctantly, Nurkic gave an exclusive interview, one that was tempered by his declaration that he is careful to boost spirits.
“It’s hard to give hope because there is no dates (for my return), so it’s hard to talk about anything,” Nurkic said. “I have no dates, so all the rumors, they don’t make sense. People are going to say (he’s coming back) today, tomorrow, next week, a week later … but I have no dates.”
The biggest hurdle standing between Nurkic and his return, he says, is being able to practice.
“All I know is I’m trying to figure out how I can get more practices, because we don’t have many practices,” Nurkic said. “That’s the only thing I can tell you. That’s the only reason I can come back: If I find somehow to practice.”
The shorthanded Blazers, who played valiantly against Indiana on Thursday but lost 106-100, are scheduled to practice Friday in Atlanta, but considering they have nine healthy bodies, it is not a given coach Terry Stotts will make the entire team run through a workout.
The next windows for certain practices are the second week of March, when the team has two consecutive off days on March 8-9 and March 13-14. Stotts almost always practices when the team has two or more consecutive days between games.
Nurkic returned to his first full-contact practice on Jan. 22, but in the aftermath he discovered he strained his right calf, which has limited his subsequent activity. Nurkic and the team have been tight-lipped about how much he has been able to do, when he has been able to do it and what — if any — progress is being made. It is unclear whether the Jan. 22 workout is his only practice or whether he has returned to workouts at all.
“I can’t tell you,” Nurkic said with a broad smile when asked what he is able to do today.
The issue he kept coming back to was returning to full-contact practice, during which he said he needs to run full court, bang into bodies and get acclimated to the speed of the game.
“Yeah, I can’t be out 11 months and just jump in a game; it doesn’t work out that way,” Nurkic said. “So, we’ll see. But I hope for the best. I’m not just sitting here. I’m working. We’ll see. That’s all I can tell you.”
Before any more questions could be asked, a member of the Trail Blazers’ communication staff ended the interview.
Nurkic’s return is among the more anticipated events remaining in this cruel season, which has sidelined starters Rodney Hood (Achilles), Zach Collins (shoulder) and, for the past four games, captain Damian Lillard (groin).
Stotts on Thursday said it is unknown whether Lillard will join the team in Orlando on Sunday, and Collins on Thursday continued to go through his pregame shooting routine, which he has done all of February. He reiterated after Thursday’s game that he intends to return to games sometime in March.
With each passing game, it is becoming more uncertain whether the returns of Lillard, Nurkic and Collins will matter in the Blazers’ pursuit of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. The Blazers (26-34) are tied with New Orleans for ninth, three games behind Memphis.
An endearing element to this late-season struggle has been the team’s effort. It is clearly overmatched on a near-nightly basis, but almost every night it is just as clear that the effort and fight remain. Thursday against Indiana (35-24) was no different, when the Blazers pulled within 103-100 with 30 seconds left only to watch Indiana center Myles Turner hit a 3-pointer off a broken play with 9.1 seconds remaining.
“It’s frustrating,” Trevor Ariza said of giving effort only to lose. “But the thing about the NBA is you have 82 of them …”
He was reminded that, actually, there are only 22 games left this season.
“Twenty-two … ****,” Ariza said. “Running out of time. So, we have to kick it into gear where we don’t have these type of games where we give great effort but the effort doesn’t end in the results we are looking for.”
The season might very well be determined in the upcoming stretch. The Blazers’ next seven games are against teams with losing records (at Atlanta, at Orlando, Washington, at Phoenix, Sacramento, Phoenix and Memphis). The Blazers probably have to win at least five of those seven to give themselves a chance.
“We already understand the position we are in,” Ariza said. “We just have to figure it out. It sounds easy, but it’s not. We have the personnel in here to do it — we have to continue to stay confident, stay together and chip away.”
Jason Quick - The Athletic
why are the blazers so mysterious about this whole situation, i cannot comprehend it
remember when terry stotts said nurk suffered mild calf strain (7-10 days recovery time), but its been a month since that injury happened, so its looking more likely its grade II calf strain (4-6 weeks recovery time)
im really pissed at how the blazers are handling this situation... go out publicly and let the fans know how the things stand, this whole mysterious sitation is really annoying, like really really annoying