- The Blazers are rallying around Jusuf Nurkic as his grandmother battles COVID-19, Jason Quick of The Athletic writes. Nurkic learned the news last week and immediately urged his grandmother to visit a hospital. “I think people don’t realize that s— is real out there, man,” Nurkic said. “We’ve been fortunate to be here and in a safe environment, being tested every day, but please … take care of yourself. Wear your damn mask … if you are outside, by yourself, do what you got to do. But if you are inside … protect people.”
- Ramona Shelburne of ESPN takes an in-depth look at Jusuf Nurkic‘s long recovery from the broken leg that sidelined him for 16 months, exploring what the Trail Blazers center gained from losing a year to that injury. “For me to be on the sideline for 16 months, watching the team play and just being around them as more of a coach than as a player,” Nurkic said, “it gives you a totally different perspective for the game, for life, for my team and family.”
Backup Thunder center Nerlens Noel missed the squad’s final scrimmage ahead of the NBA season restart in Orlando after accidentally not taking his daily COVID-19 test, according to Joe Mussatto of the Oklahoman. The Thunder would go on to win that scrimmage, 131-120, against the Trail Blazers. Any player who misses a daily coronavirus test is required to quarantine in his hotel for at least a day before rejoining his team.
- All-NBA Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will play in the team’s first restart game on Friday against the Grizzlies, per Jason Quick of The Athletic. Lillard missed the team’s final two scrimmage games against the Raptors and Thunder with a sore left foot. “I was able to do everything [normally],” he said after a private 45-minute solo workout Wednesday. “I feel fine. I’m ready to go for tomorrow.”
- Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts told reporters this week that he expects to have a full team available for Friday’s seeding game against the Grizzlies, per Jason Quick of The Athletic (Twitter link). Portland currently trails Memphis by 3.5 games for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
- The Trail Blazers – and head coach Terry Stotts – were happy with what they saw on Thursday from Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, who were playing for the first time in 16 months and nine months, respectively. As Jason Quick of The Athletic writes, the team still wants to experiment with frontcourt options in its next two inter-squad scrimmages before deciding on a starting five for the seeding games. “Right now, I would like to see Nurk and Hassan Whiteside out there together and we can make decisions after that,” Stotts said. “At this point, I’m just keeping an open mind about it.”
The NBA has announced the official summer rosters for each of the 22 teams involved in the resumption of the 2019/20 season. A total of 350 players make up the 22 squads, with only eight clubs carrying the maximum allowable 17 players. The Trail Blazers have the smallest summer roster, with just 13 players.
Injured players who didn’t make the trip to Orlando – such as Nets stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant – don’t show up on the official rosters list, but injured players who traveled with their teams – including Mavericks big man Dwight Powell and Pacers swingman Jeremy Lamb – are included, even if they won’t play this summer.
Besides players who are injured, voluntarily opted out, or were ruled out after contracting COVID-19, there are a few more notable omissions on the list, which we’ll round up here:
- Houston Rockets: William Howard
- A two-way player, Howard recently reached a two-year deal with ASVEL Basket in France, so it makes sense that he won’t be playing for the Rockets this summer.
- Los Angeles Clippers: Johnathan Motley, Mfiondu Kabengele
- As previously reported, Motley and Kabengele didn’t travel to Orlando with the Clippers and won’t be playing this summer.
- Milwaukee Bucks: Cameron Reynolds
- The Bucks only brought one of their two-way players (Frank Mason III), as Reynolds doesn’t show up on their official roster. The reason for his absence is unclear.
- New Orleans Pelicans: Josh Gray
- Darius Miller also isn’t listed on the Pelicans’ roster, but he’s injured, so it appears that Gray – a two-way player – is the player being replaced by Sindarius Thornwell, who was signed as a substitute player earlier this month. That would mean that Gray was one of three Pelicans players who contracted COVID-19 in June.
- Philadelphia 76ers: Ryan Broekhoff
- Broekhoff was signed as a substitute player to fill the Sixers’ open two-way slot, but later announced that he hadn’t traveled to Orlando because his wife, who is “high risk,” tested positive for COVID-19. Based on his omission from Philadelphia’s roster, it appears that Broekhoff won’t be joining the club after all.
- Phoenix Suns: Tariq Owens
- The Suns left one of their two-way slots open and apparently didn’t bring their lone two-way player to Orlando. The reason for Owens’ absence is unclear.
- Portland Trail Blazers: Moses Brown
- Despite only having 13 players available in Orlando, the Trail Blazers won’t have Brown – their second two-way player – with them. The reason for his absence is unclear.
- Washington Wizards: Gary Payton II
Trail Blazers veteran Carmelo Anthony has slimmed down in anticipation of playing more often at small forward during the restart, according to Royce Young of ESPN. Anthony has mainly played power forward in recent seasons but with big men Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins returning from injuries, Anthony is making an adjustment by shedding weight.
“I kind of challenged myself to get down to that weight where I feel comfortable with playing the 3, comfortable running around and utilizing things I can do within our system from playing the 3,” the Trail Blazers forward said. “That was a big motivation for me to come back at that exact weight, or around that weight, 230, 235. I haven’t seen 230, 235 since early, early in my career.”
As we detailed on Friday when we discussed the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, there will be an opportunity for teams to move up – or down – in the standings when play resumes on July 30.
With eight “seeding games” on tap, teams are unlikely to make up five- or six-game deficits on the clubs ahead of them in the standings, but there’s a strong likelihood of a shake-up in instances where teams are only separated by a game or two.
That’s even more true in the Western Conference than it is in the East, albeit not necessarily at the very top of the standings, where the 49-14 Lakers hold a fairly comfortable lead on the 44-20 Clippers. The Lakers’ magic number to clinch the conference is just three, so they’re a safe bet to hang onto the No. 1 seed.
After that though, there’s some congestion in the standings. The Clippers’ lead on the Nuggets (43-22) is just 1.5 games. Denver holds an identical lead over the Jazz (41-23). Utah, meanwhile, is just a couple losses away from slipping down to the No. 6 seed, as the Thunder (40-24) and Rockets (40-24) are right on their heels. The 40-27 Mavericks round out this group of six teams, a game-and-a-half behind OKC and Houston and just 5.5 games behind the second-seeded Clippers.
A number of those six clubs bunched up in the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture will face one another when play resumes. For instance, the Thunder – who have the potential to move up or down a couple spots in the standings – will open the restart against the Jazz and Nuggets and eventually finish their season against the Clippers. The Clips will face the Mavericks and Nuggets in addition to OKC. Dallas opens its eight seeding games by playing the Rockets.
Given the strength of competition in the West, seeding could be paramount in the postseason. The Nuggets, for example, could conceivably face the Jazz, Thunder, Rockets, or Mavs in the first round and would likely prefer some opponents to others in that group. The Jazz, currently at No. 4, could be motivated to avoid the No. 6 Rockets in the first round, since they’ve been eliminated by Houston in each of the previous two postseasons.
At the bottom of the playoff picture, the No. 8 Grizzlies (32-33) have essentially no chance to move up, since they’re seven games back of Dallas. But they’ll be looking to increase their lead over the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, and Suns — if they can finish with more than a four-game lead on all those clubs, they’ll avoid a play-in tournament. If the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds finish within four games of one another, a play-in tournament will be necessary to determine that final playoff spot.
A newly-healthy Blazers squad will be a major threat to the Grizzlies, as will a Pelicans team that faces one of the league’s weakest schedules over the course of the eight seeding games.
What do you think? Do you think we’ll see much movement in the Western Conference’s top eight? Will the Grizzlies be knocked out by one of the challengers behind them in the standings? What do you expect the West’s top eight seeds to look like by the time the playoffs begin?
Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your predictions!
- The Trail Blazers’ big men looked good in their returns to the court last week, Jason Quick of The Athletic writes. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins have both healed from their respective injuries, with Portland now sporting three seven-foot players when including Hassan Whiteside. “They both looked like the way we remembered them,” coach Terry Stotts said. “I told Nurk that — he’s the Nurk I remember playing at both ends of the floor. He made some really good passes, good rebounds. And Zach was full of energy. You couldn’t tell either one of them missed time. It was very encouraging.”