Orlando Bubble

Damian Lillard carries Trail Blazers past Nuggets and closer to No. 8 seed

Damian Lillard carries Trail Blazers past Nuggets and closer to No. 8 seed

Damian Lillard wasn’t quite all the Trail Blazers needed Thursday night to beat the Denver Nuggets 125-115. But the Blazers most certainly needed all of what Damian Lillard gave them.

And that was a lot.

Lillard scored 45 points, had 12 assists, four rebounds and three steals -- and took on his team’s most difficult defensive assignment in the second half.

And the Trail Blazers, who came to the Orlando Bubble to try to claim the No. 9 spot in the Western Conference in order to earn a play-in series against the Memphis Grizzlies, moved within a half-game of the Grizzlies for the eighth position.

This was a big game for the Trail Blazers and Lillard knew that Denver -- even with four starters sitting out this game -- was going to be dangerous and he had to take the game seriously from the start.

Which he did, with 14 points in the first quarter. The Portland guard had made only 10 of his 30 three-point shots in the first three games in Orlando but knocked down 11 of 18 in this game, tying his own franchise record for most made threes in a game.

Lillard wasn’t going to let his teammates look past this game or take a win for granted because the Nuggets were short-handed. 

“We’re here to just get it done,” Lillard said. “Teams have lost those games. Tonight, I just wanted to come out and set the tone.

“They had guys out and you can’t come out and think you’re going to win. You have to come out and be present. I don’t care who is out there, we have to come out and play like everybody’s out there because it means more to us than it means to them. And that was my mentality.”

And after Michael Porter Jr. burned the Trail Blazers early, Lillard volunteered to take on the task of guarding the 6-10 power forward. Sometimes on defense, a big heart is as valuable as a big body.

“We’ve got eight games to try to get into the playoffs,” Lillard said. “It’s not like we’re looking at a full 82 game season. I told (Coach Terry Stotts), 'Let me guard him.' He made a few shots, was comfortable for a little bit and i just wanted to make him a little bit uncomfortable.

“I was physical. I made him work for it and I thought I did a pretty solid job of that.”

Lillard was Deep Dame for most of this game, launching long-range shots quick and accurately

“In the first two games, the ball was coming off my hands really well,” Lillard said. "I just wasn’t making it. It was just timing. We hadn’t played too many games.

“It felt good, I knew eventually it would click -- the ball would just go in and it would feel great.”

And when it clicks for Lillard, there’s a good chance it will click for others. When the Blazer star catches fire, he draws more attention and it opens shots for his teammates.

Down the stretch of the game, everybody was contributing to the offense as the defense focused on Lillard. Gary Trent and Jusuf Nurkic were the beneficiaries and Portland scored 15 of the game’s final 22 points.

But this doesn't get any easier.

After a day of rest Friday, Portland plays the Los Angeles Clippers Saturday and Philadelphia 76ers Sunday in its only back-to-back on the Orlando schedule.

And the Blazers are likely to again need all they can get from Damian Lillard.

Finally, the Trail Blazers return Friday -- and with a healthy Damian Lillard

Finally, the Trail Blazers return Friday -- and with a healthy Damian Lillard

For the Trail Blazers and their fans, the big day is almost here.

Friday brings Game 1 of the NBA’s daring plan to restart a season that went off the tracks. For the Trail Blazers, it came after a Portland win on March 10 over Phoenix, just the team’s fifth victory in its last 14 games.

This is not exactly a do-over, but it’s a second chance.

It could be an opportunity for Portland to pull off a heroic rescue of a season that was destined to be wrecked by injuries. Or it could be just an annoying dead end for a team that lost its way.

But with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins now healthy, the Trail Blazers meet the West's eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies Friday at 1 p.m. on the first step of a long journey to capture a playoff berth. Portland sits three and a half games behind Memphis in the chase for the final playoff spot and a scant percentage point ahead of New Orleans and Sacramento.

Obviously, the game vs. Memphis has a great deal of meaning to it, which doesn’t escape the attention of the Trail Blazers.

“The first win is super-important, because it basically equals two wins for us,” Damian Lillard said Thursday. "Getting closer to the eighth spot and getting some distance from the team behind us. It also sets the tone to start off with a win, instead of starting off in the hole.

“It’s going to be huge for us to get the first win.”

Coach Terry Stotts said, “This is a big game and we know it. I think everybody on the team knows how important this game is.”

And Portland fans took a huge sigh of relief Thursday afternoon when it was revealed that Lillard will be playing Friday, after sitting out the team’s final two scrimmages with inflammation in his left foot.

“I don’t even know what I did,” he said. “I don't think I did anything specific. After the first scrimmage, I felt fine. Got back to the room, I felt fine. When I woke up the next morning, my foot was sore.

“We basically think it was just soreness from having a four-month break and then coming back and having high intensity. I think it got just a little bit irritated.”

Obviously, without Lillard, the Trail Blazers would be severely handicapped. But he says he’s playing without a minutes restriction.

 “I feel fine,” he said after Thursday’s workout. “I worked out hard for 35 minutes last night, No limits. I was able to do everything normal -- move side to side, sprint, jump. And I did everything today so I feel fine.”

And he says he will play as long as he’s asked to play, in what his coach and the team are calling a playoff game, even though it’s just the first of an eight-game culmination to a shortened regular season.

“This is the playoffs,” Lillard said. “It’s going to be a normal situation. Play a lot of minutes, especially with everything that is on the line. But we’re not traveling, not changing time zones, you get to recover faster. We’ve trained. I’ve trained. I’m strong, my body feels strong.”

Could he go 40 minutes, as he’s done in the playoffs previously? 

“If that’s what Terry says I'm playing, that’s what I'm playing,” he said.

Coverage begins with Blazer Warm-up at noon, on the exclusive home of the Trail Blazers, NBC Sports Northwest.

Big Z's Bubble: Is Zach Collins a good bowler? Well, we know -- he's eager to earn DPOY

Big Z's Bubble: Is Zach Collins a good bowler? Well, we know -- he's eager to earn DPOY

It’s time to find out how life in the Bubble is going for the Trail Blazers from our Bubble Insider Blazers big man Zach Collins

As Collins and the Blazers continue to prepare for their first of eight seeding games, starting with Friday’s showdown against the Memphis Grizzlies, Collins is also answering the questions you sent in on social media!  

This week in ‘Big Z’s Bubble,’ he takes us on a special bowling trip in Part 2 of 'Big Z's Bubble.' The entire team went bowling earlier this week after CJ McCollum set up the team bonding experience.    

Shout-out to CJ because now we know who can bowl and who needs to stick to bumper bowling.  

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].


Big Z also opens up about what type of career he would want if he wasn’t in the NBA thanks to Joshua on Facebook asking, “Zach, if you weren't playing pro ball, what would be your chosen occupation?”

"I'd like to work in movies because I'm such a big fans of movies and the whole process behind making a movie really fascinates me," Collins said.

So, does that mean:

Collins is going to be the next Steven Spielberg or George Lucas?

Or, is he the next Brad Pitt?

It sounds like a movie career could be in Collins' future, far, far future!

[RELATED]: Big Z's Bubble Week 1 -- Zach Collins takes you on a tour of hotel's barbershop

But now back to basketball...

Garrett on Facebook asked, “do you think you will make an all-defensive team in the future/Defensive Player of the Year candidate?”

Collins was eager to answer this one:

That’s one of my goals. I definitely am not going to stop and I’m not going to stop wanting to get better and wanting to reach that goal until it happens, until I get multiple all-defensive teams and DPOY candidates. And, hopefully winning the award one day. I think coming into the league, defense is something that really came a lot easier to me than the offensive end of the game, and while that part of my game is there, and it’s going to develop and I know what I’m capable of, defense is more of an instinctual thing with me. I’m able to understand angles and timing a little bit better. So, that part of my game is something that I think is going to allow me to play in this league for a very long time. -- Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins

The Trail Blazers 7-footer also mentioned that he thinks earning all-defensive honors is “realistic” for him, but he knows that it won’t be easy.

And thanks to Kahfitz on Instagram, we now know that Big Z listens to a wide range of music.

A very WIDE range.

Plus, Zach is very honest in answering Ethan’s questions of:

Is Hassan Whiteside good at Warzone?

Spoiler Alert: This answer will make you chuckle.

Zach answers all of these questions and more in the second installment of ‘Big Z’s Bubble Life.’ Check out Part 1 of 'Big Z's Bubble' Week 2 right here.

And, don’t forget to continue to send in your questions for Zach as the NBA restart officially tips off this week. He’ll be answering the top questions on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram once a week while the Blazers make a push for the postseason.  

Plus, catch Collins and the Trail Blazers Friday on the official network of the Blazers, NBC Sports Northwest! Coverage starts at 10:30a.m. with 'Blazers Game Day' followed by 'Blazers Warm-up' at noon and 'Blazers Pregame' at 12:30p.m.. And then it's the Blazers vs Ja Morant and the Grizzlies at 1:00p.m!  Don't miss a second of the action on NBCSNW and by downloading the MyTeams App to live stream the game.

The 'very dynamic' Dillon Brooks will lead Memphis vs. Trail Blazers Friday

The 'very dynamic' Dillon Brooks will lead Memphis vs. Trail Blazers Friday

The Memphis Grizzlies are holding down that No. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoff picture by three and a half games.

And even though there are four teams with a chance to catch them, with the Trail Blazers the closest by a percentage point, there is inner confidence that through the eight “seeding” games in Orlando, the Grizzlies will hold onto the berth.

First-year Memphis Coach Taylor Jenkins likes what he has seen from his squad in its three scrimmages, the last of which was a convincing win over Miami, after losses to Philadelphia and Houston.

“I think our guys are up for the challenge,” Jenkins said Tuesday after the win over the Heat. “We’re still far from being a finished product. The fact that we’re taking positive steps every single day, every single game, that’s very encouraging for me. I think our guys are focused on the task at hand each day.”

Memphis has a young team and Jenkins seems intent on making sure his team doesn’t get caught looking too far ahead in its fight to retain the playoff berth. The restart begins with Friday's very big game against the Trail Blazers.

“You know, the first game is Portland and once we get past Portland, it’s on to the next opponent,” he said. “So we’re not looking too far ahead. We know what we’re playing for and I’m not going to have to remind them every single day. We’ve just got to focus on what we do every day. These three (scrimmage) games are very encouraging to me. These guys are starting to click again. The chemistry is there.

“We’re competing at a pretty high level and they’re motivated to get better every single day.”

A key piece of the Memphis attack is former Oregon star Dillon Brooks, a Canadian who wasn’t selected in the 2017 draft until the 15th pick of the second round. But he’s blossomed in Memphis and is averaging 15.7 points per game.

“He’s so important to what we do on a daily basis,” Jenkins said of the 6-7 swingman. “His competitive fire, his spirit -- you feel it when he gets it going at the offensive end. It just opens up the floor for us more.

“He’s a very dynamic player on the offensive end. (And) he sets a tone for us defensively.”

Ja Morant is the presumptive NBA Rookie of the Year and leads the team from the point guard position. But center Jonas Valanciunas has averaged 14.9 points and 11.2 rebounds and the 265-pounder is always a tough player for the Trail Blazers to handle.

It all starts Friday, with the coverage of the game set to begin at High Noon on NBC Sports Northwest.

Major League Baseball's system was flawed and players are at fault, too

Major League Baseball's system was flawed and players are at fault, too

Less than a week into its opening, Major League Baseball is on its way to a serious problem with finishing its schedule.

And yes, I blame Commissioner Rob Manfred for not having his teams playing in a bubble. I understand he would have had a real fight on his hands with the players association, but it’s looking as if keeping teams quarantined in a bubble is the only way to make a restart work. If you don't play in a bubble, you probably shouldn't play at all.

Look, when as many players (15, when I last counted but more to come, most likely) on the Miami Marlins test positive for COVID-19, it’s pretty obvious that something is wrong with the system.

And that system, in baseball, calls for teams traveling to road games and not being carefully supervised away from the ballparks.

Folks, the coronavirus doesn’t come from spontaneous combustion. It normally doesn’t happen without some sort of close contact with others.

One of those Marlins, or their staff, most likely came in close contact with an infected person -- at home or in an eating or drinking establishment -- and brought it back to the clubhouse and gave it to his teammates.

Any system of restart set up by a league should require players to do their part -- stay quarantined, masked and social distanced. Odds are, if you test negative and are put in an environment of people who also tested negative, you will stay negative.

But if you circulate outside that environment, especially without a mask, you are begging for trouble -- not only for yourself, but everyone you come in contact with.

I blame Manfred for not getting a better system in place. And I blame players for not being more careful.

People have laughed at the NBA “snitch line,” a number players can dial to name players who violate protocols for the league’s bubble.

I say players who violate the protocols in any way deserve to be snitched on. And players who identify them are heroes.

The continued play among all the leagues is a massive financial investment and the players will share in the benefits of that. But more important, people’s health -- long term and short term -- is at stake.

Would you want to be responsible for your league having to call off its restart? Or worse, be the guilty party when another player, or a family member of that player, gets sick?

There is so much at stake here.

MLB has not been strict enough in regulating its players’ movements. Traveling to different cities and states where laws and best practices are wildly different is a prescription for contracting the virus. Just the travel itself is probably a bad idea. The NFL seems headed down the same path.

So far, the NBA has been the leader and as long as its players stay true to the rules, it will remain at the forefront in regard to safety.

But it’s going to take players and staff accepting the responsibilities set out for them by their leagues. And leagues having enough sense to monitor and regulate the behavior of their players.

If Damian Lillard isn't at his best, the Trail Blazer restart is 'a waste of time'

If Damian Lillard isn't at his best, the Trail Blazer restart is 'a waste of time'

I’ve been around sports all my life and when somebody mentions “inflammation” in a foot, I admit to a little nervousness. That can mean a lot of things and a good share of them aren’t good, including, but not limited to, plantar fasciitis.

Damian Lillard sat out Sunday’s scrimmage with inflammation in his left foot and then went through only a no-contact practice Monday. Coach Terry Stotts said after that practice he wasn’t sure about Lillard’s availability for Tuesday’s final scrimmage.

I have no idea the extent of his injury and am not here to speculate on its seriousness -- because I don’t know and the team has not announced the exact nature of the injury.
But I do know this -- if Damian Lillard’s availability for the eight scheduled games in Orlando is going to be limited, that team should just pack up the basketballs and icebags and head on home.

This thing isn’t happening without Dame. And, given the schedule problems for the Trail Blazers, Dame at his absolute best is going to be needed.

The Trail Blazers got Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins back for this restart of the 2020 schedule, but are without Trevor Ariza and Rodney Hood, better defenders on the perimeter than anybody on the current playing roster.

Defense has been a problem all season for the Trail Blazers and that will likely continue. Which means Portland will need to have a very efficient offense to overcome the defensive shortcomings.

Without Lillard that would be difficult. It doesn't take a certified genius to know that.

And, of course, that doesn’t even take into account his leadership, which is a key to Portland’s motivation. He’s the one pushing the Trail Blazers toward the playoffs in a situation when a lot of players -- and teams -- would rather be home right now.

It was at Lillard’s birthday party last week when his stated wish to his teammates was famously “let’s not (f-word) waste our time out here” in Orlando. Meaning they are there to win.

And sad to say, if one of best players in the league can’t play or is limited in minutes or movement, that’s exactly what the restart is going to be for the Trail Blazers.

A waste of time.

Trail Blazers outscored by 30 at 3-point line, raising some obvious questions

Trail Blazers outscored by 30 at 3-point line, raising some obvious questions

These are just scrimmages. They don’t count. And Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers’ ultimate difference-maker, sat out with inflammation in his left foot. And Portland played Toronto, one of the best defensive and three-point shooting teams in the league.
I understand all that.

But the questions moving forward, with just one scrimmage left before the start of the seeding games in Orlando, are pretty obvious:

  • Can the Trail Blazers close out well enough against three-point shooters to limit their ability to break games open?

  • Can the Trail Blazers -- a better-than-average three-point shooting team in the NBA before the hiatus -- find their touch from long range?

  • If the Trail Blazers can’t hit a high-enough volume of threes, can they get enough high-percentage shots from two-point range to offset their three-point imbalance?

Sunday against the Raptors, the Trail Blazers were outscored by a whopping 30 points from the three-point line in a 110-104 loss. Toronto made 17 of 44 and the Trail Blazers hit just 7 of their 28.

You’re going to have to get a lot of easy twos to make up for a disparity like that one.

Portland started Hassan Whiteside at center and Jusuf Nurkic at power forward and played the Raptors even in the first quarter and led by five at the half.

But Toronto was getting good shots and inevitably they started going in during the third quarter. Stotts was asked how he thought the Nurkic-Whiteside tandem did in its first game action.

“I thought they played well,” he said. “I thought the team played well when they were together. I think it’s obviously something we’ll continue to look at.

“If you look at the first half, we were leading at the half. We played well in the first half and they were shooting threes.”

True. But they were getting several open ones and those are eventually going to go in.

Portland’s defensive rotations often looked more like scrambles than set rotations. And at the offensive end, the Blazers didn’t get as many open looks from long range as the Raptors did.
“There is room to improve,” Stotts said. “We are who we are… I’m not going to downplay it, the three-point shot is a big concern in the league right now. 

“We didn’t shoot the three well. We’re going to shoot it well eventually. 

“I want to get good shots. Dame is going to take his seven to ten threes. He’s going to give us more threes. We will get the ball inside. I’m surprised we haven’t offensive rebounded as well as I thought we would, to begin with.

“My biggest thing is that we get good shots -- play to our strengths. Some nights it’s going to be threes, some nights it’s going to be inside.

“I don’t think you’re going to see a steady diet of anything from us. We’ve got inside and outside. We've got penetrators, we’ve got three-point shooters. We’re not strictly a three-point shooting team. We’ve got to score the points where we can get them.”

The NBA game is always headed toward a confrontation between a team skilled enough to score inside baskets efficiently enough to overcome the barrage of threes that many teams are now shooting… or a combination of shooting threes well and augmenting that with an efficient post game.

And that could be the Trail Blazers. At least that’s the plan.

Blazers' take on arena ambience in Orlando ranges from 'weird' to 'funky' to 'unique'

Blazers' take on arena ambience in Orlando ranges from 'weird' to 'funky' to 'unique'

Certainly playing basketball in a gym without spectators is something most people have done many times. You grow up playing that way.

But for NBA players, doing their work with no fans in the stands is a different deal. No cheering, no booing, no energy. 

So how did that feel for the Trail Blazers during Thursday’s scrimmage vs. the Indiana Pacers? Different, but it doesn’t take long for NBA players to get so deep into the game that the atmosphere is out of sight and out of mind.

“Obviously, a huge difference,” Damian Lillard said. “Warming up, empty arena, it was pretty quiet. It was different for that reason. When the game started, I just got lost into the game. Didn't think much of it.”

What was noticeable on television was the backgrounds behind the baskets, which were done in the color (yellow) of Indiana, the designated home team. That appeared as if it might be distracting.

“A few times, it was light in the background and it looked weird seeing it through the glass,” Lillard said.

He said officials asked for his input about the setup.

“When they asked me about it, I mentioned it to them. Pretty sure it won’t be that way going forward.”

Zach Collins asked out of any discussion about the shooting background.

“I didn’t shoot anything outside the paint in that game so maybe I will give you a better answer when I do get some looks,” Collins said with a laugh.

Collins, like Lillard, pointed out the difference in an arena with no spectators.

“The whole atmosphere was kind of weird for sure,” he said. “No fans.  Even when they tried to put fans on the screen when Indiana scored, they would be throwing highlights up there and usually that’s on a Jumbotron. So when you’re running down the court, you don’t see that.

"But now, you can be worried about your play and out of the corner of your eye you see something going on, on the screen. I don’t know if they’ll change that, I know they’re using these games as a learning process but it was definitely a little funky.”

Again, though, pros have the ability to tune out the static.

“You’re worried about so much in the game, guys are so talented in the league, whether it’s a scrimmage or not, you kind of get lost in the game,” Collins said.

Coach Terry Stotts had the sideline view and liked what he saw.

“I was impressed with it,” Stotts said. “I think everybody was adjusting to the lighting. Just the actual light, before the game. I heard some players talk about that.

"All the ambience they had in, I think it’s going to be different for regular-season games, once they start.

"But more than anything else, it’s very unique. It just takes a little while to get used to, but I think the league has at least made it seem like an exciting environment, even though you’re playing in an empty gym."

And even as a TV viewer, it's much the way the players see it after a while. You get into the game and the peripheral stuff is largely forgotten.

NBA to add new broadcast enhancements for restart in Orlando

NBA to add new broadcast enhancements for restart in Orlando

The NBA is just a week away from meaningful games, but we have been already been getting a glimpse of what basketball in the bubble looks like thanks to some "preseason" scrimmages.

The Blazers took on the Pacers in a losing effort on Thursday, but that's ok, the game didn't really count. 

What mattered for the team was just getting on the court, knocking off the rust, and finding a groove before the July 31 matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies. 

As for the fans, all eyes were on the TV not only to see how their team looked, but to see how a basketball broadcast looked inside the bubble.

It was certainly different. 

There were no fans in the stands, a substantial amount of natural sound, and players on the bench were all seated six feet apart to help stay safe among the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The broadcast was like nothing we had ever seen before, and it's only getting to get more innovative.  

The NBA announced on Friday that there will be special changes coming to the broadcast as we know it. 

This biggest innovation - fans will be in the building... virtually. 

While fans won’t be physically present at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, more than 300 NBA fans each game will be invited to appear live on the “Michelob ULTRA Courtside” 17-foot video boards surrounding the court. Those fans will have the opportunity to digitally interact with each other throughout the game using Microsoft’s “Together mode” to create a virtual experience by removing fans from their individual backgrounds and bringing them together in a shared visual space that will be seen through the broadcast and in the venue. This new experience—the first to go live as a result of the NBA’s strategic alliance with Microsoft—gives participating fans the feeling of sitting next to one another at a live game without leaving the comfort and safety of their homes, while players experience their energy and support in-venue - NBA on new broadcast presentation

The league also announced that more than 30 cameras would be placed in new locations, including closer to the court, to "showcase never-before-seen camera angles in places that are otherwise not accessible with fans in the arena."

Social media will also play a bigger role than ever in fan interaction. 

Through apps such as TikTok, Twitter, and Snapchat, fans can use their social media presence to have a direct influence on the venue. 

All viewers will have the ability to impact visual effects in the venue through a virtual cheering experience. Fans can digitally cheer for their team through the NBA App and NBA.com and on Twitter using team hashtags throughout the game. Virtual cheering will be reflected on the video boards in-venue with graphics and animations that capture the level of fan engagement around the world. Fans will also have the opportunity to see their videos featured through TikTok Challenges. Snapchat’s “ground segmentation” augmented reality technology will also give fans an opportunity to explore a virtual rendering of the official court in Orlando via a Lens wherever they are. - NBA on new broadcast presentation

As the league continues to thrive in the bubble, it's obvious that one huge piece to the NBA in-arena experience is missing. Through this new plan, the NBA hopes to bring that missing piece, the fans, right back into the action.

Through upgraded visual and audio production, fans can feel like they are there in Orlando. While through social media, fans can directly impact the feeling inside the arena.

The games may not be inside Moda Center, but fans can still do their best to give the Blazers a home-court advantage. 

Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].


Who will start alongside Jusuf Nurkic? Zach Collins or Hassan Whiteside?

Who will start alongside Jusuf Nurkic? Zach Collins or Hassan Whiteside?

The big question that Trail Blazer fans had going into the NBA restart in Orlando was originally,”Who will start at center?” By now, though, there is no doubt about that answer -- Jusuf Nurkic is going to be there. He owns that spot.

But the answer to that question has led to another question that hasn’t yet been answered: “Who will be starting alongside him?”

I assumed all along that it was Zach Collins’ position. He opened this season (it seems so long ago) as the starter at power forward and is, presumptively, the team’s power forward of the future.

But Trail Blazer Coach Terry Stotts says he has still not made up his mind about that decision. He wants to see Hassan Whiteside alongside Nurkic in a scrimmage and revealed that he was going to start Whiteside in Thursday’s scrimmage until last-minute Achilles soreness forced Whiteside into street clothes.

Understand that Whiteside would not be playing power forward. If he plays alongside Nurkic, it will be with the more mobile Bosnian at power forward and Whiteside at his normal center spot.

“Mostly, I’m going to play forward with Whiteside in,” Nurkic said after Thursday’s scrimmage. “(With Collins at power forward) we mix it. Me and Zach, we’re going to switch a lot of things. We’re going to read a lot of things. “Four and five are going to be the same thing for us. When we’re on the court together, we’re going to help each other. I thought we looked great (Thursday), to be honest.”

Stotts is taking a neutral position at this point.

“I haven’t made up my mind,” Stotts said Thursday. “I had every intention of starting Hassan tonight with Nurk, to get a look at that. But with him being hurt, or not being available, he will start one of these next two scrimmages.”

And what happens when the eight-game seeding games begin?

“I haven't made up my mind what we will do against Memphis,” Stotts said. “But I want to see Nurk and Hassan out there together and I’ll make up my mind after that. At this point, I'll just keep an open mind about it.”

The Portland coach is in a difficult position. Whiteside has been his starting center all season and leads the league in blocked shots. And with Nurkic back, Whiteside could have bailed on the seeding games, using his pending free agency as an excuse and just staying home.

But he stayed loyal to the team and it would be a tough call for the coach to relegate him to the bench. So I believe Stotts is making every effort to give Whiteside a chance to win a starting berth.

But there are a lot of factors at work with this decision:

Collins is likely this team’s starting power forward next season and for many years after that. He needs time playing with Nurkic and the other starters.

Whiteside may use his free agency to land somewhere else next season, so why should he be anything but a backup?

And another consideration would be Whiteside’s feelings about starting. If he doesn’t start, with free agency ahead and what he has given the Trail Blazers this season, would he pout? Would he be a problem? Without him, the Blazers would once again be down to two playable bigs.

And what about using Nurkic as the power forward? He can probably handle the job, but is it beneficial to him and the team to play him there for long periods?

The mathematics of playing time can be figured out so that Nurkic and Whiteside would be on the court together only about 10 minutes per game, allowing for rest for each player. But should those minutes be at the start of a game?

Stotts has a difficult call ahead. Should Collins lose a starting job because of an injury? Should Whiteside lose his starting job because someone else is coming back from an injury?

There are a lot of questions and Stotts is the one tasked with providing the answers.

It’s not easy being a coach.