Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, who has been sidelined for almost a year after a devastating leg injury, told Yahoo Sports he will make his season debut March 15 against the Houston Rockets.
“I’m ready to help my team make the playoffs,” he told Yahoo Sports. “It’s time.”
The big man suffered a compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula in a March 25, 2019, regular-season game against the Brooklyn Nets. It was one of the most gruesome injuries seen on a basketball court after he landed awkwardly while attempting to grab an offensive rebound.
Nurkic returned to practice on Jan. 23, and he’s been itching to rejoin his teammates in game action.
“I worked my ass off to be in position to get back on the court and help my team, but game speed is going to be different,” Nurkic told Yahoo Sports. “I’m not going to be playing 40 minutes. But for me, mentally, I need to get these reps in before I can play [extended minutes]. Physically, I’m good. I had a calf strain recently, which is normal for the injury I had. I’ve been pleased with where my rehab is going. I never doubted I’d be back, but I had to make sure I was 100 percent. I can’t wait for [March 15].”
Last season, Nurkic averaged career highs in points (15.6), rebounds (10.4) and field goal percentage (50.8). He played a vital role in helping the franchise advance to the conference finals for the first time in 19 years.
The Trail Blazers are healing up for the stretch run as they pursue a playoff berth. They are 3.5 games back of the eighth and final playoff spot currently held by the Memphis Grizzlies. All-Star Damian Lillard is back in the lineup after missing time with a strained hamstring.
With the team struggling to find a consistent groove throughout the season, Nurkic said that hurt more than the physical activities he endured during rehab.
“I felt all the pressure in the world because of how well we’ve played the last three years as a team,” he told Yahoo Sports. “At the end of the day, I gave what I had for the fans and the team. I wanted to play before anyone else wanted me to play, but this was the first time in my career that I could fully heal. I didn’t want to regret it later if I got out there too early. I always put the team first. Everything happens for a reason.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs, but I’ve been there before. There were struggles and fun times, but mainly during my rehab I was focused on how I could get back to normal. How I can get the reps in to make sure I’m preparing myself properly. It’s been a crazy year with so many emotions, but I’m glad it’s finally time.”
It will be the first time Nurkic will get to play with Hassan Whiteside, the center Portland traded for in the offseason as a placeholder and who is currently leading the league in blocks at 3.1 per game.
“He’s my teammate,” Nurkic told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t know the plans going forward, but my mind is on how I’m going to help this team make the playoffs. We just need to sacrifice our games for the team’s good, do the little things that don’t show on the stat sheet and put our games together for possibly the playoffs. We have a chance, and when you have a chance, you’ve got to go get it.”
Nurkic credited the unyielding support he received from Rip City for helping him through this long journey to return to the game he loves.
"The day I got injured, I was so impressed with the way the fans, players reached out to me,” the center told Yahoo Sports. “Thanks to everybody. That was huge. The fan base and the city of [Portland] have been tremendous through this process. They know I’ll do what’s best for the team. The way they treated me, I’ll never forget that.”
More from Yahoo Sports: