Players, coaches and fans are counting down the days before the Trail Blazers’ season opener Wednesday against the ever-present Denver Nuggets Wednesday night in Moda Center.
And there’s another countdown to think about, too. And that's how many Blazer centers are down for the count. We have known for months that Jusuf Nurkic would not be back with the team until sometime after the new year because of his broken leg.
Then Portland center Hassan Whiteside sprained his left ankle Thursday night in an exhibition game at Denver and was held out of contact at Saturday’s practice. He did go through shooting drills and Coach Terry Stotts said the team would be preparing for the opener as if Whiteside will be in the lineup, “But our preparation will be the same, with him or without him.”
Whiteside said Saturday he plans to play Wednesday.
That would be important because it appears veteran center Pau Gasol will not be available for the start of the regular season, as had been hoped.
There was originally thought there was a chance that the veteran center would be recovered from his surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot in time to play in the season-opener, but he said Saturday that likely would not happen.
“Better,” he said when asked about his condition. “It’s just the part of rehab when you ramp up the load, you’ve got to see how it reacts. And it takes some time to adjust to it. So, if you do too much, if you’re too excited, it’s kind of counter-productive. That’s a little bit what happened early on; It felt really good, very excited about it and now we’re taking it a little slower.”
So, it’s safe to say you won’t be ready opening night?
“That’s a very safe statement” Gasol said. “It’s a process. It’s going to take -- not a little longer than we thought -- it’s just not going to be as short or quick as we thought we could do it.
“I’m trying to make sure when I do get back, I’m there for good.”
Stotts said Gasol’s absence won’t be so critical since the team played without him throughout the exhibition season.
“It doesn’t affect us much because we haven’t had him,” said the Portland coach. “It would probably have been different had he played in the preseason and then not have him available. Basically, since he’s been out of commission, it really hasn’t affected us. The better question is when he comes back. Then things will have to change.”
The Trail Blazers and Nuggets met for seven games in the playoffs last season and then played each other twice in the preseason. Neither team would have wished for those head-to-head exhibition games this season, but the preseason schedule is made up many months prior to the regular-season schedule. And obviously that counting schedule is made without regard for the preseason slate.
For Denver, whose season ended with the playoff loss to Portland, this will be the 10th time in its last 12 games it has played the Trail Blazers.