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What’s Next for the Trail Blazers?

Can the Blazers overcome injuries to two of their top three players?

Brooklyn Nets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been a rough couple weeks for Blazers fans. Jusuf Nurkic will be out for at least eight weeks with a broken wrist and news broke on Monday night that CJ McCollum would be out about four weeks with a broken foot.

For a team with preseason ambitions of a deep playoff run these two injuries are a devastating blow. Especially given how well McCollum had played to start the season.

Can the rest of the roster hold down the fort?

Unfortunately, the Blazers’ problems this season run deeper than injuries to McCollum and Nurkic. Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. have not proven themselves to be definitive upgrades over Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless. Rodney Hood has struggled to recover from a blown Achilles tendon. Anfernee Simons has not looked like a rotation player at all, let alone a backup point guard ready to fill the gap left by CJ’s absence. The team defense has looked, well, awful. And Zach Collins is unlikely to meaningfully contribute this season after suffering his own injury.

Outside of Enes Kanter (and CJ, of course) it’s reasonable to ask if anyone on the roster has exceeded preseason expectations. And now that same roster will be called upon to try to fill the huge gaps left by McCollum and Nurkic over the next several weeks. Even the most diehard fan would forgive a little bit of pessimism at this point.

What’s the most likely outcome here?

Normally most of these early season hiccups could be weathered. Indeed, there have already been signs of life; Lillard just won player of the week, Hood played well for the first time this season, and Jones’ athleticism is starting to pay dividends.

But, unfortunately, the entire team will now be asked to stretch themselves beyond expectations over the next 20+ games. Lillard will have to play out of his mind to keep the team afloat, which has historically resulted in some nagging overuse injuries:

Damian Lillard has had his fair share of nagging injuries over the course of his career. Examples include: A groin injury and tweaked knee last season, a hamstring strain during the 2017-18 season, lingering plantar fasciitis during the 2015-16 season, at least a couple jammed fingers, etc.

The Blazers will likely be able to stay afloat and win enough games to limp into a playoff series as a low seed and serious underdogs.

We have, of course, seen this before in playoff matchups with the Warriors and Lakers (and Pelicans?) in recent years. It’s not particularly fun. But it’s the likely reality for the 2020-21 season.

A silver lining?

Just to end on a positive note, I’ll point out that the Blazers have been snakebit the last two years but have otherwise had decent injury success in the post-Aldridge era. Even the current spat of injuries is, hopefully, not indicative of systemic problems but rather is just bad luck.