Status of Blazers’ Big Man Nurkic Puts Warriors in Odd Spot for Preparations

[CSNBY] Status of Blazers' big man Nurkic puts Warriors in odd spot for preparations
Monte Poole

OAKLAND -- The Warriors are deep into their preparations for their first-round playoff series against the Trail Blazers, beginning with Game 1 on Sunday.

One problem: The Warriors don't know who will be at center for Portland.

Starter Jusuf Nurkic missed the last seven regular-season games with a slight fracture in his right leg. Though the 7-foot, 280-pound "Bosnian Beast" has progressed to individual drills, he has not been officially cleared for contact. The Blazers say a decision will be made Sunday.

Which forces the Warriors to expand their game plan.

"We're preparing for him to be there," coach Steve Kerr said after practice Friday, "and also preparing for their lineups without him."

Nurkic is an impact player, averaging 15.2 points and 10.4 rebound since being acquired in a Feb. 12 trade with Denver. The Blazers are 14-5 when he is in the starting lineup.

His offensive arsenal would prompt the Warriors to alternate defenders, turning to big players, such as Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee, as well as natural power forwards Draymond Green and David West.

"He definitely changes the series, whether he's in or out," Green said of Nurkic. "It's a completely different team with him in there. It changes everything. If he plays, I'm sure I'll be on him some.

"But I foresee the game being a "smaller" if he doesn't play. If he plays, it turns into a bigger game. It changes everything."

Though Meyers Leonard is the likely starter if Nurkic can't go, Portland's small-ball teams could feature Noah Vonleh or Al-Farouq Aminu at center, surrounded by guards Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe, along with forwards Maurice Harkless or Evan Turner.

Leonard and Vonleh or anyone else on the roster would represent a major dropoff from Nurkic.

"We've just got to be who we are," Kevin Durant said. "We know he makes their team different. But we don't know if he's playing or not. But we're preparing as if he is. They're a different team with him out on the court."

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