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Mile Highs and Lows: A Recap of the Denver Nuggets in April

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The storyline this month has been centered around injuries, but the Nuggets are finding ways to persevere and flourish despite the bad luck

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The month of April has certainly been bitter sweet for the Denver Nuggets. While they were able to win 13 of their 16 games, which is an incredible accomplishment, they also suffered a devastating blow to their championship goals when Jamal Murray went down with a season-ending ACL injury. Murray’s injury forced the Nuggets to get creative with figuring out their backcourt rotation, as Monte Morris and Will Barton are also currently rehabbing injuries of their own. Amazingly enough, not only have the Nuggets been able to stay afloat, but they have actually been able to gain significant ground in the standings, and now have a chance to overtake the Los Angeles Clippers for the third seed in the West if they are able to win tonight. Needless to say, this month has definitely been an emotional roller coaster for Nuggets fans.

Record in April: 13-3

Overall record: 42-21

Highlight of the Month: Nikola Jokic throws yet another incredible no-look pass

By now, we should all be used to the amazing passes that Jokic dishes on a regular basis. Still, no matter how many we see, Jokic just keeps dropping jaws with some of his assists. On April 16th in their game against the Houston Rockets, Jokic threw an unbelievable no-look pass over his head while his back was to the basket. P.J. Dozier, to his credit, made a great cut and perfectly executed the play in order to get an easy layup for two points. It was yet another example of Jokic seeming to have eyes in the back of his head.

Game of the Month: Denver Nuggets (139) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (137), April 19, 2021

If you like close games down the stretch, MVP performances, and come-from-behind victories, then you must have loved watching the Nuggets take on the Grizzlies on April 19th. With just under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets were trailing by 12 points, and it looked like they headed for a loss. Then, Michael Porter Jr. hit a three and that sparked a Nuggets come-back. The Nuggets only allowed the Grizzlies to score two more points in regulation after that, and Nikola Jokic and Will Barton took over, taking turns hitting two consecutive field goals each. Jokic then hit two clutch free throws to send the game into overtime.

In overtime, Ja Morant continued to dominate for the Grizzlies, and his team lead the Nuggets 125-120 with 2:09 remaining. Once again, the Nuggets relied on defense, Jokic and Barton to get themselves back into the game. With 12 seconds remaining in overtime, Barton hit a game-tying three-pointer to send the game to a second overtime. The second overtime remained extremely competitive, with the teams going back-and-forth. With the game tied with 42 seconds left, and both teams struggling to pull away from the other, Jokic hit an incredibly clutch three-pointer to essentially seal the deal, and the Nuggets walked away with an extremely hard-fought win against a team desperate for wins. It was yet another MVP-type performance for Jokic, as he finished with 47 points, 8 assists, and 15 rebounds on 20/31 shooting.

Player of the month: Michael Porter Jr.

While it seems incredibly wrong to give the “Player of the Month” title to anybody but Jokic, especially after his absolutely dominating performance against the Grizzlies on April 19th, the truth of the matter is that MPJ is perhaps the biggest reason why the Nuggets have been able to win so many games despite all of the injuries they’ve been plagued with this month. It was always a given that Jokic was going to continue performing at an MVP level. The biggest question after Murray went down with the ACL tear was whether or not MPJ could take the next step in achieving stardom in this league. It was no secret that the focal point of the Nuggets’ offense was the two-man game between Murray and Jokic. With Murray out of the equation, Porter has the ball in his hands a lot more and is putting up a lot more shots. The reason why the Nuggets have been winning games is that his efficiency has not gone down with the increased volume of his shots. The result is that the Nuggets now have a 6’10 small forward that’s putting up 20 to 30 point games on a nightly basis, to go along with much-improved defense and outstanding rebounding.

MPJ’s full talent was on display in the game against the Houston Rockets on April 24th, in which he scored 39 points on 13/21 shooting, to go along with 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. While it certainly won’t be easy to win a playoff series without Murray, I think we should all feel much better about our chances if MPJ can continue to perform at this level going forward.

Story of the Month: Jamal Murray suffers season-ending injury

The story of the month in April could very well end up being the story of the decade for the Denver Nuggets, as their second-best player went down with a season-ending injury in their game against the Golden State Warriors on April 12th. The window for championships close extremely fast in this league, and one of the biggest reasons why is oftentimes devastating injuries like the one that Murray unfortunately suffered. Of course, the Nuggets still have the leading candidate for the MVP award on their team, so it would not be wise to count them out entirely, even despite the fact that Murray has been invaluable to the Nuggets in their rise to being a contender.

Still, it’s hard not to think about the long-term effects of this injury, considering that Murray will most likely end up missing the majority of next season. With a significant injury like an ACL tear, there’s never a guarantee that players will return to the level that they were playing at prior to the injury. However, if there’s one player that is sure to make a furious comeback, it’s Jamal Murray. Now, Nuggets fans just have to be patient and hope that Jokic and the gang can hold things down in his absence.

Surprise of the month: The Nuggets are 8-1 since Murray’s injury, despite additional injuries from other key role players being added on

When Murray went down with the ACL tear on April 12th, it seemed like all hope was lost for the Nuggets’ championship aspirations. However, the team then won their next four games, behind MVP performances from Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. stepping in nicely to an increased role. When Will Barton went down with what looked like a significant injury on April 23rd, it seemed like the bad luck just would not stop piling on for the Nuggets. Despite this, the Nuggets have just kept winning games. After their loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Nuggets won all four of their games at home. In total, they are 8-1 since the Murray injury, which is truly incredible considering that Monte Morris has also missed extended time due to an injury.

As a result of missing three of their key guards, the Nuggets signed Austin Rivers to a 10-day contract, and signed Shaquille Harris to a two-way contract. Both players are earning rotation minutes on the team, and both have been impressive and a big reason why the Nuggets are winning games in Murray’s absence. Furthermore, Facundo Campazzo and P.J. Dozier have been playing extremely well in their increased roles. They have both been locked in on defense and have also been finding ways to get involved on offense. Campazzo earned his first double-double this season against the New Orleans Pelicans on April 28th, when he scored 19 points to go along with 10 assists. P.J. Dozier, on the other hand, had a career-high 23 points against the Rockets on April 24th.

While I’m sure we can all agree that the true test for this team will come in the playoffs, I choose to believe that the Nuggets will still have the upper hand in a lot of matchups considering that they have the MVP, very solid role players, and a budding superstar in MPJ that is making the leap before our very eyes.

Grade for the month: A

What’s new on Denver Stiffs:

It was an extremely eventful month with a lot of new developments for the season, and the Stiffs had you covered through it all. Check out some of these pieces that were published this month.

In this piece, Gage Bridgford analyzes ways in which the Nuggets’ bench unit needs to improve

In this extremely emotional piece, Ryan Blackburn reacts to the devastating news on Jamal Murray’s season-ending injury

Gage Bridgford analyzes just how egregious the referring has been at times in regards to Nikola Jokic

If you want to read a very optimistic piece, this is the one for you. In it, Tommy Knowlton explores some of the ways in which the Nuggets have been so successful recently

Following Murray’s injury, Tommy Knowlton searched for ways in which the Nuggets can somehow beat the odds in achieving their goals despite losing their second-best player

After all of the talk surrounding the MVP race, Ryan Blackburn made the important argument that Jokic’s attendance record this season is absolutely not the only reason he is leading the race so far.

Check out this episode of the Chick N’ Nuggets podcast in which Jena Garcia and Reilly Biller dissect all of the MVP conversation that has been heating up this month

What exactly makes MPJ such a special player? Ryan Blackburn answers that question in this article

Tommy Knowlton has noticed Facundo Campazzo’s value to the team, especially after all of the injuries, and he expands on this topic in this piece