PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers will be without two of their three best players for the next month or two as CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic recover from a broken foot and a broken wrist, respectively.
On Jan. 18, the team announced that McCollum had a small hairline fracture in his left foot and would be re-evaluated in four weeks, putting him out until at least Feb. 15. The next day, the Blazers announced that Nurkic underwent surgery to repair a fracture in his right wrist and would be re-evaluated in six weeks, putting him out until at least March 2.
The Blazers, who are in fifth place in the Western Conference with an 8-6 record, play 12 games between now and Feb. 15 and then another seven between then and March 2. So Portland will need to tread water without their starting shooting guard and center for at least the next 19 games.
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The center position seems covered, thanks primarily to Enes Kanter. Nurkic has been replaced in the starting lineup by Kanter, who has averaged 10.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.5 blocks and a steal in 27.8 minutes per game since Nurkic's injury.
Kanter is backed up by Harry Giles, who has averaged 2.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in 13.4 minutes per game since Nurkic was hurt. In small-ball lineups, Robert Covington and Carmelo Anthony will get some run at center.
The shooting guard position is more tricky, mainly because McCollum was having such a phenomenal season. McCollum was averaging 26.7 points, 5.0 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals and shooting 44.1% from the 3-point line. Replacing that level of production is a tough ask.
Rodney Hood got the start in place of McCollum against the Spurs and head coach Terry Stotts has said he'll start Sunday against the Knicks, too. Hood had his best game of the season against the Spurs, scoring 21 points in 25 minutes. The Blazers will need to see more of that from Hood, who got off to a slow start this season, his first since returning from an Achilles injury.
The Blazers will turn to a couple of third-year guards off the bench to fill out their rotation at the guard position.
Bubble breakout Gary Trent Jr. has had a solid start to the season, averaging 10.8 points and shooting 42.2% from 3, but his inconsistency has hurt the Blazers.
Trent Jr. has yet to string together two double-figure scoring games in a row this season. In 12 games, he's scored double-figures in six games and been held below 10 points in six games. In the double-figure scoring games, Trent is averaging 16.0 points and shooting 57.9% on 6.3 3-point attempts per game. In the other six games, he's averaging 5.5 points and shooting 19.2% on 4.3 3-point attempts per game.
Anfernee Simons will also likely see a boost in minutes as the backup point guard, a role McCollum handled when he was healthy. Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey once referred to Simons as "the most talented player I've ever drafted" and veteran teammates have praised Simons repeatedly, talking in glowing terms about how well he plays in practice. But at some point, the hype must translate into production.
After a promising start to last season, when Simons averaged 10.3 points and shot 35.5% from 3 in 21.7 minutes per game, he hasn't been the same. In the remaining 45 games last season, he averaged 7.2 points and shot 31.1% from 3. And he's off to an even worse start this season, averaging just 4.2 points and shooting 32.4% from 3 in 10.5 minutes per game.
If the Blazers are going to survive this stretch without McCollum and Nurkic, it will need to be a team effort. They'll need Kanter to continue to produce at a high level and they'll need Hood, Trent Jr. and Simons to step up and contribute more than they have to this point in the season.
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