Just when Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins was starting to get back into a groove, the injury bug hit once again.
Collins has been ruled OUT for Game 1 with ‘left ankle inflammation.’
Back in early November, Collins underwent surgery on his left shoulder following the third game of the 2019-20 season.
Collins was poised to make a major impact for the Trail Blazers, starting at power forward.
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At the 5:22 mark of the first quarter of Saturday’s play-in game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Collins snagged a defensive rebound, but in doing so, he appeared to be limping and favoring his left ankle after the play.
Collins was then subbed out at the 4:32 mark of the first quarter and was seen limping to the bench. He did not return to game action.
After Monday’s practice Blazers head coach Terry Stotts gave an update on Collins’ status, saying that Collins will not play in Game 1 on Tuesday:
“Zach will not be playing,” Stotts said, while adding, “I can’t say right now,” on the duration of how long Collins will be out.
Stotts did not go into too much detail about the injury. "It’s the top of his ankle. There’s soreness on the top of his ankle that hurts when he runs -- inflammation of his ankle," Stotts added. It's not known what is causing the inflammation or how severe it may be, casting doubt into Collins' availability for the Trail Blazers series vs. the Lakers beginning Tuesday.
The Trail Blazers will also be without rookie forward Nassir Little for Game 1, who has been dealing with dehydration.
Through eight seeding games, Collins struggled to find his rhythm offensively, but still provided a boost on the defensive end. He contested shots at the rim and made it difficult on smaller wings to attack the basket. Plus, with Lillard, Trent and McCollum all on hot streaks at various moments during the Blazers 8 seeding games plus a play-in game, Collins' impact defensively was crucial.
Collins started all eight-bubble games at power forward for the Blazers, while averaging 6.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard explained how much it hurts to not have Collins out on the floor.
Obviously it’s not ideal, it’s not what we want to see. Obviously, he’s been out the entire season, basically, and when he came back it was something that we were super excited about. He made a difference for us -- defensively, rebounding the ball, but also giving us that size. So for him to be out, obviously, it hurts our team, but the next guy has to step in and be ready… Hopefully he’ll be out maybe one game or two, but his health is the most important thing. But, our mentality has to remain the same -- we are here to win, not to say that we put up a good effort and I think that’s what we’re doing. -- Damian Lillard
Portland went 1-2 against Los Angeles this season with the last meeting back on Jan. 31, in the Lakers first game back after the sudden death of Kobe Bryant. In that game, the Blazers beat the Lakers, 127-119, after Lillard channeled his inner Mamba Mentality, notching 48 points and 10 assists.
In that last meeting of the season, Collins was out rehabbing his shoulder and Carmelo Antohny did not make the trip for that game. Which meant, Blazers rookie Wenyen Gabriel got the start at power forward.
Gabriel brought the energy from the jump and made Anthony Davis work on the offensive end. In Gabriel's limited action of 13 minutes before fouling out, he was extremely aggressive at both ends and finished with one rebound, one assist, and a plus-5.
Lillard believes that Gabriel and the Blazers should be confident in what the 23-year-old will be able to do vs. the Lakers as coach Stotts could either go with a small-lineup and move Carmelo Anthony to the four and Gary Trent Jr. could start at the three or Stotts could go with Gabriel at the four. But, Lillard believes they will run with Gabriel at least to start the series.
Right now, I would guess that it would be Wenyen just because… the last time we played the Lakers we were in a similar situation where Melo didn’t make the trip and [Gabriel] started that game, which was a big game. There was a lot of attention on that game and he came out and he was prepared... We don’t expect him to go out there and hold AD or anybody to zero points, we just want him to come in and give that effort, and just have a positive effect on the game and I thought he did that the last time. Just knowing that he has done that against this team specifically, we should have some confidence in him being able to step in for however many minutes it is. -- Damian Lillard on Wenyen Gabriel
Lillard added that it won't all fall on Gabriel to fill the Collins void, saying, “it will be by committee.”
As Portland’s other superstar Carmelo Anthony prepares to face LeBron James in the playoffs once again, Melo discussed how difficult it is for Collins to deal with yet another injury and how this now means whoever is called upon needs to step up.
“He’s a piece of what we was able to accomplish,” Anthony said. “Health is more important than any of this. We just want him to get healthy, get right. Mentally, I know it may be hard on him, especially coming off of an injury and dealing with this in this situation. I know how hard he worked to get back to this point… And when he can join us, he’ll join us. We’re going to have to fill that void and fill that hole… As far as who is going to be out there, I have no idea; whoever it is in that position, when their number is called, they’re going to have to step up, we’re going to need them.”