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How can Jusuf Nurkic affect the fate of the Trail Blazers?

Jusuf Nurkic could be a major difference maker for the Trail Blazers down the stretch when the NBA resumes.

Jusuf Nurkic of the Portland Trail Blazers warms up before the game against the Phoenix Suns on March 10, 2020 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers’ championship odds have jumped from +20000 to +15000 since mid-May, and improved health has a lot to do with that. They’ll be competing for a playoff spot when the NBA resumes play in late July and will benefit from the return of Jusuf Nurkic, who hasn’t played since suffering a gruesome leg injury in 2019.

Nurkic has been rehabbing his fractured leg while intending to return at some point this season, but the season being delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic might help him help him make his 2020 debut in better shape than he would have on a normal schedule. He led Portland in rebounds (10.4) and blocks (1.4) per game last season and will join a frontcourt that’s added the lanky Hassan Whiteside.

Damian Lillard was has had time to regain form after being hobbled by a groin injury during the All-Star break and late in February and C.J. McCollum — who thrived during his absence — will support him in the backcourt. Then there’s Zach Collins, who is set to return to the court for the first time since he suffered s shoulder injury in December. The Memphis Grizzlies are 3 12 games ahead of Portland in the Western Conference standings and appear to be headed for a play-in series to earn a spot in the postseason.

Can Nurkic be the piece that helps Portland reach its potential and peak ahead of the playoffs in Orlando? It’s hard to tell, but you could make the argument that no team has gained more talent than the Trail Blazers since the NBA season was halted in March.