The Portland Trail Blazers are getting some important players back in their rotation, which is bad news for the Sacramento Kings’ playoff hopes.
The Sacramento Kings will travel to Portland tonight to take on the Trail Blazers in what will be a gigantic game for both teams and their playoff hopes. They are both coming off of disappointing losses; the Kings to the short-handed 76ers, and the Trail Blazers to a fading Suns team. The defeats place them in a virtual tie in the standings, both 3.5 games behind the idol Grizzlies.
While the Kings have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA over the last month, it is the Trail Blazers who might have plenty of momentum for the stretch run through March and April.
Portland has had a disappointing season after appearing in the Western Conference Finals last year, and much of the woes can be blamed on injuries to some a handful of regular rotation players. Jusef Nurkic has missed essentially an entire calendar year and fellow big man Zach Collins has been out since early November while recovering from shoulder surgery.
And then there is their superstar point guard Damian Lillard, who missed seven games beginning around the All-Star break as the Trail Blazers were in danger of falling out of the playoff race. But Lillard has recently returned from his groin injury, and has averaged 23 points and 5.5 assists in his two games since returning.
While you’ll never catch us applauding injuries, it is obvious that Lillard’s return to Portland’s lineup is bad news for the Kings. He has, once again, established himself as one of the NBA’s top offensive threats and overall players, and his presence could be enough to shift the entire playoff race in the Trail Blazers’ favor.
Lillard, who is always active on Twitter and social media, has recently responded to Oklahoma City Thunder fans who are still obviously bitter about the Dame Wave in last year’s playoffs. They let Lillard know that Portland is currently on the outside looking in, and he lets them know that the season is far from over:
A regular Damian Lillard is dangerous enough to keep the Kings from seeing their first playoff action in 14+ years. A Lillard with a chip on his shoulder make the Trail Blazers a threat to win any given game down the stretch.
Back After A Year
There was more good news on the injury front for Portland on Friday as it was announced that Nurkic was projected to make his long awaited return next weekend against the Rockets. While Nurkic is nowhere near Lillard’s level of stardom, his importance to the Trail Blazers playoff chances are huge.
Before his injury last season, Nurkic was playing some of the best basketball of his career, averaging 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. In the game in which he exited with his gruesome leg injury, Nurkic a stat line of 32 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocks.
Hasaan Whiteside has been a solid stop gap, and has better numbers across the board than Nurkic was putting up last season. But Nurkic is a better fit in Portland’s system on both ends of the floor, and has a knack for making the players around him look and play better.
No, Nurkic will not be available for tonight’s contest, and this is the final meeting of the season between the Kings and Trail Blazers, so his return won’t be any direct effect on Sacramento. But Portland will certainly be an improved team with Nurkic back in the rotation, and every win for the Trail Blazers is a loss for the Kings at this point.