The season is young.
Just 17 games into the 2020-21 campaign, the Trail Blazers are 9-8. As of this writing, they sit 8th in the Western Conference, with only 4 losses separating them from the top-seeded Utah Jazz. Portland’s story thus far hasn’t been comparable to that of Minnesota or Washington’s; with hopeless rosters making them destined for a lottery pick, or even similar to Miami and Dallas’, with superstars underperforming and failing to match their previous year’s productivity. Instead, Portland’s season has been marked by newly acquired pieces failing to fit properly, and most significantly, by injuries.
Entering the season, the Blazers were already down their young big man, Zach Collins; who was recovering from an ankle injury he suffered in the Orlando bubble. At the end of December, it was announced Collins had suffered a setback and would need a second surgery, delaying his timetable for return indefinitely. Since that point, the Trail Blazers’ injury woes have only worsened.
- Jusuf Nurkić: Fractured his right wrist on January 14th. Following his surgery last week, it was reported he will be re-evaluated at the beginning of March.
- CJ McCollum: Fractured his left foot on January 16th. He will be re-evaluated at the end of February, but it seems unlikely we will see him back in action before the mid-season break in March.
- Robert Covington: Suffered a concussion on January 24th. The Blazers’ offseason acquisition has missed two games, but should be able to return in Portland’s Saturday matchup with Chicago.
- Derrick Jones Jr.: Suffered a quad contusion on January 25th, but was cleared to play in Thursday’s matchup with Houston. During that game, Jones Jr. sprained his left foot and was sent to the locker room late in the 3rd quarter. Head coach Terry Stotts said after the game that x-rays came back clear, and he is currently listed as day-to-day.
- Rodney Hood: Despite being active for the contest, Hood didn’t play during Portland’s January 25th matchup with Oklahoma City. It was later revealed that Hood was dealing with a thigh contusion, though he was able to log limited minutes off the bench in Thursday’s loss in Houston.
On any given night, some combination of the above players accounts for 4/5 of the Blazers’ starting lineup. That’s not even including Collins, who would also typically plugin as a starter. Damian Lillard is good enough to keep this injury-ridden team competitive in most games, but being down so many key playmakers forces Portland into situations like their Thursday night loss to Houston, which saw 36-year-old Carmelo Anthony playing 38 minutes; the same as Lillard and Gary Trent Jr.
Is that ideal? Of course not. Is it going to continue? Probably.
For now, it’s their only option.
Derrick Jones Jr. and Robert Covington are day-to-day. Getting them back, healthy, and into the lineup with certainly be a boon for the Blazers. CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkić, however, will not be back until March at the earliest. Perhaps this opens the door for Lillard to mount an MVP campaign. Maybe this is what it’s going to take for Anfernee Simons to take the next step in his development. Moreover, when looking down the depth chart, there’s no shortage of players who now have an opportunity they otherwise would not: to carve a role for themselves on a potential playoff roster.
Portland now continues a road-trip which will see them play 5 straight, and 11 of their 15 remaining games this month away from home. They’re going to need some Lillard heroics. They’re going to need Carmelo Anthony to play more minutes than expected. More than anything, though, they’re going to need to stop suffering injuries.
These battered Blazers need a (lucky) break.