The Denver Nuggets find themselves in a bit of a predicament when it comes to deciding what to do with Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray. With just 10 games left in the regular season, the Nuggets currently find themselves sitting sixth in the Western Conference standings and are just a half game clear of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Denver has already secured at least a spot for the play-in tournament, but if they want to avoid a potential “one and done” game they will need to finish sixth or higher in the standings to secure their spot in the playoff field. If the Nuggets are able to secure that sixth spot, a matchup with the third-seeded Golden State Warriors feels like the most likely outcome.
Golden State currently has a two and a half game lead over the Utah Jazz for third in the West and the Warriors are a game and a half behind the Memphis Grizzles for the second seed in the conference. So, with the rest of the season basically mapped out, it’s time to pose the question of what should the Nuggets do with Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray?
Updates on the two players have been few and far between, but this is what we know in regards to Murray’s status. Just the other day before the Nuggets played the Boston Celtics, Denver head coach Michael Malone said Murray is “not close” in regards to playing in games following his practice sessions with the Grand Rapids Gold of the G-League.
It’s certainly not the most encouraging of updates and it begs the questions of why even risk playing Murray this season with just 10 games to go? If Murray truly is “not close” to playing in games it feels like a return to play in the regular season may be out of the question. The Nuggets regular season concludes on April 10th at home against the Los Angeles Lakers, which is only three weeks away.
So, if Murray is not able to play in the regular season, would it be smart for the Nuggets to play him in the postseason? It feels like an easy answer on the surface, which is a solid no considering Murray has not played in a game since April 12, 2021 when he suffered his ACL injury. Even though he will be a full year removed from the injury once the playoffs begin, it’s incredibly tough to ask someone to return to play during the most important time of the season.
The intensity is turned up to 11 in the postseason and for a player coming off a big-time injury like a torn ACL it just doesn't feel like the best timing to return to the floor. I feel like the same can be said for Porter, whose timeline has been a little murky than what we’ve heard surrounding Murray.
Reports back in February were that Porter was expected to return around “mid-March,” but mid-March has passed and he has yet to return to the floor. Then last week we almost got an update of Porter, but ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski froze on national television and we never got a status update.
Appearing in just nine games this season before suffering another back injury, Porter has worked himself back to at least having a chance to play again this season. Porter has not appeared in a game for the Nuggets since November 6th against the Houston Rockets, but everything we’ve seen from MPJ’s workouts look as if he’s close to being at full strength once again:
MPJ progressing to 1-on-1 work vs. Davon Reed. pic.twitter.com/VDaQdzeOX6— Mike Singer (@msinger) March 1, 2022
It’s hard to compare the two because both suffered different injuries, but it feels as if Porter is closer to returning to the floor than Murray. Still, should the Nuggets run the risk of potentially rushing Porter back just to play in a few regular season games and then in the playoffs?
The question the Nuggets really have to ask themselves is do they think they're a championship level team if Murray and Porter play in the postseason. If the answer is yes and both players are 100 percent then by all means you have to consider playing them, but to expect both players to return to their prime form after missing so much time just feels unrealistic.
When you look at the Western Conference standings there is not a team that’s projected to make the postseason that Denver can't beat in a playoff series. The only team that presents real problems for them are the Phoenix Suns and we all saw how that went last year when a depleted Nuggets squad got run out of the building in the second round.
I’m not so certain that adding Murray and Porter this year gets you past the Suns. I think next year when both players have a full offseason to recover than yes it’s more than plausible to see the Nuggets advance past Phoenix and potentially reach their first NBA Finals, but it just feels like that’s not in the cards for this year.
With that being the case, I hold steady on resting Murray and Porter to close this season and go into the playoffs with a “whatever happens, happens” mentality. Do I think this Nuggets team can — minutes Murray and Porter — win a playoff series or two? Absolutely, but I think accomplishing that while also not jeopardizing the long-term health of two of your star players also has to be priority number one.
What do you think Nuggets fans, would you like to see Murray and Porter return to the floor this season? or would you hold them out and go into the 2022-23 season with a fully healthy squad ready to compete for their first ever NBA title? Let us know in the comments below!