Zach Collins is back.
Portland is one of the most interesting teams heading down to Orlando. The Trail Blazers won 53 games and reached the conference finals a season ago, only to follow it up with a painful 29-37 campaign this season with a 27th ranked defense. Orlando is a chance a redemption — the Trail Blazers are just 3.5 games back of eighth-seeded Memphis heading into the eight seeding games, and the Trail Blazers have a percentage-points advantage over their West rivals that could matter.
Most importantly, Portland got healthy and look like the 53-win team from a season ago on paper. They got Jusuf Nurkic back as their center, a critical part for them on both ends of the court.
And they got a healthy Zach Collins along the front line, too. He has been medically cleared from the surgery to repair his separated shoulder, he told Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. He’s able to fully join in practices down in Orlando.
“When my doc came in and said my shoulder feels like a normal shoulder, that I was good to go, it was like a weight was lifted,” Collins said. “I tell people all the time that he whole rehab process isn’t difficult. It’s just very long and boring. The worst part is not being on the road with the team, not being around them every day, feeling disconnected. It’s weird. Odd. So, mentally, it’s a big struggle. I’m just super excited to be back and know that I can do everything again.”
And Portland’s chances?
“We’re healthy,” Collins said. “Well, we’re not fully healthy — we don’t have Rodney (Hood) — but we have Nurk and me and a lot of guys that had to step up and play more minutes than expected during the season. Put all that together, combined with guys coming back and the time off and everybody’s body being ready and recovered, and I think we have as good a shot as anyone.”
Even healthy, even with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Portland has a tough task to make the playoffs. They have to beat out New Orleans and Sacramento (and technically San Antonio and Phoenix, but those are much longer shots) to earn the nine seed, then beat Memphis in back-to-back games. Not impossible, but not easy either.
But with Collins and Nurkic back and the roster healthy, Portland has the best shot of anyone in the West of pulling it off.