With Trevor Ariza not making the trip to Orlando to resume the 2019-20 season, there have been several opinions and ideas thrown out as to how Portland is going to cover that gaping hole.
The Trail Blazers could go real big with their starting lineup, but then there’s also the chance they could go with a real small lineup.
Big man Jusuf Nurkic, who believes he is near the best shape of his life, mentioned that coach Terry Stotts has discussed with him that he could earn some power forward minutes.
But, Nurkic says he is ready to fill whatever role Coach Stotts decides for him.
“I think we just need to fill in role with what the coach supposed to give us and what he thinks is the best for us and for the team,” Nurk added. “That's his part of the job, but I went down as a center, so I'll be back at the center. If I'm going to play some minutes at the four – yeah, I think [after] talking to the coach, I will definitely play some four.”
The 7-footer understands that in the few days left before the Blazers travel to Orlando to enter the quarantine bubble, he has one job:
“It’s just a matter of what [Coach Stotts] thinks is the best for the team -- that’s his part of the job to figure out. My part is -- I'm going to be as healthy as I’ve probably ever been.”
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Stotts has also thrown out the possibility of shooting guard CJ McCollum moving over to the three.
There’s already been a lot of chatter about Carmelo Anthony moving from the four to the three with Gary Trent Jr. and Nassir Little playing backup small forward as well.
But, what does CJ think?
“Melo probably will play some small forward, G-Trent can play some small forward, Nas can play some small forward. I’ll probably play some small forward,” McCollum said with a smile.
McCollum is an undersized two guard at 6’3”, 190 pounds. That’s a lot to ask of him to go up against an even bigger wing player.
But, it doesn’t sound like he’ll play too many minutes if any at the three and, of course, it will depend on matchups.
The NBA has been moving towards a positionless game for years and this restart for the Blazers could be the most positionless team we've seen. McCollum made a good point though, there really aren’t too many LeBrons in the league.
We'll be alright. We have a bunch of professionals, guys who worked on their games and this gives other players an opportunity that they probably wouldn't have gotten had Trevor been going, so will be fine. There's only so many LeBrons out there. -- Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum
Sure, McCollum defending wings isn’t ideal for Portland, but there is something else to consider:
McCollum and Damian Lillard will have a lot of help behind them with a healthy Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic.
“When you look at our roster we lost a really good defender in Trevor, but we gain two really good ones in Zach and Nurk,” McCollum said. “I know we had great rim protection with [Hassan] Whiteside and will continue to have elite protection with Nurk. He's a guy who can be active in pick and rolls, he can be at the level, Zach can be at the level, they can drop, they can switch, they can guard guards. And they rebound really well for their positions and they can rebound outside of their areas. So, I think those are the keys in defense. Get a stop and being able to get the rebound, I think we are in position to do all those things and have some serious interior presence.”
As the Trail Blazers embark on their trip to Orlando, with the NBA season ready to resume July 30th, Portland currently sits 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Blazers do have one of the toughest roads to the playoffs based on strength of schedule. Six of Portland's eight games will be against teams with a winning record.
McCollum believes of the eight regular-season games, the Blazers will only be able to lose two games or they won’t make it to the postseason.
“Probably six, I’d guess,” McCollum said when thinking about the number of wins they’ll need to get past Memphis and New Orleans for that final playoff spot out West. “I mean, it's hard to say. You don't know how the other teams are going to do. So I think that also factors in but I believe we've gotta go 6-2, that’s my guess. Maybe 5-3, but it just depends on how many games they win.”
There’s no time for Portland to ease into the return to play, that’s for sure.
The Blazers tip-off the resumption of the season on July 31 against Memphis.