Kiz: While it has been entertaining to watch Nikola Jokic carry the Nuggets toward a berth in the NBA playoffs, what’s more tantalizing is to watch guard Jamal Murray hoist jumpers prior to games, as he continues to rehab from a torn ACL. As you have told us for weeks, there’s a chance the Nuggets’ second-best player can return to action this season. Is Denver’s championship dream still alive?
Singer: Watching Jamal run through his pre-game workout routine has become appointment viewing for me. He’ll start by raining in dozens of 3-pointers around the arc, and then move to one-on-one work, which I’ll admit, is tantalizing to watch. His lateral movement and burst is coming back. All that said, I believe we’re close to the hardest part of his rehab. Once the physical hurdles are cleared, Murray will enter the more imprecise portion of his comeback. At that point, the Nuggets are going to have to trust Murray, and he’s going to have to trust himself. Even with him back, I just don’t think it’s realistic to bank on Murray being Murray, which makes a title, at least for this season, a longshot.
Kiz: While far be it from me to make a hasty judgment, is it too early to get giddy about the Blue Arrow hitting the bulls-eye from 3-point range in a playoff game? In fact, might it be more likely Michael Porter Jr. suits up after back surgery, while the return of Murray is delayed until next season? Let’s get down to the real nitty gritty: Do you believe either Murray or MPJ has a better than 50-50 chance to play for the Nuggets this spring?
Singer: I believe all options are on the table. Porter’s recovery from his third back surgery has been swift. He was in the gym getting shots up earlier than anticipated, and now 10 weeks after back surgery, it’s remarkable how fluid his jumper looks. I also believe he is itching to return, so much so that cooler heads might need to intervene and slow-play the process. If you ask Michael Malone, he’ll tell you they’re just as likely not to return as they are to return. It’s a prudent message that turns down the temperature, minimizing any pressure they might be feeling. But given how far Porter’s already come in such a short time, I think there’s a good chance we see him again this season.
Kiz: We’re talking really big, all-capital IF’s here. If Murray and Porter both have full confidence in their ability to play basketball safely at an elite level, the Nuggets could be an extremely tough draw for any foe in the Western Conference playoffs … with one exception. Phoenix is clearly better than Denver. The Nuggets could make some noise in the upcoming playoffs, but they won’t win a championship this year. But 2023? That’s an entirely different story.
Singer: I’m so mad at myself. The Phoenix Suns showed us who they were last season on their march to the NBA Finals, and I was dumb enough to doubt them this season. I drank the stale Lakers Kool-Aid, curious as everyone whether LeBron had one more kick. The Suns are not just the favorite this year, they might be a budding juggernaut. For Denver, it’s worth taking the long-view this season. Appreciate Nikola Jokic’s run at another MVP, monitor his and Aaron Gordon’s burgeoning chemistry, and hope we get a glimpse of MPJ and/or Murray. After that, buckle up, because next season it’s on.