ROUND UP

Murray leaves with injury, MPJ carries Nuggets in Finals rematch

Feb 29, 2024, 11:01 PM | Updated: Mar 4, 2024, 10:59 am

DENVER—Michael Malone made it clear that the Denver Nuggets goal in the second half of the season was to keep their starting five healthy, and winning was secondary.

Just five games after the All-Star Break, star point guard Jamal Murray suffered a scare and went down with an ankle injury in the first half against the Miami Heat. Murray was playing in the back-to-back after being iffy about going the night before.

“Talked with Jamal (Murray) quickly at halftime and after the game, he wanted to give it a go and warm up, but it didn’t respond the way he hoped,” Michael Malone said. “We just gotta be as careful as possible at this point in the season.”

Murray will give it another test and join the Nuggets on the road in LA for their next game, or at least that’s the plan as of Thursday night.

“It’s great for him to realize being cautious right now is probably the really prudent decision,” Malone continued. “And that shows maturity, and he’s growing up, but he realizes it and I said this, we want the number one seed, that’d be great, but I want to be healthy. Because I know if we’re healthy, we can beat anybody anywhere. And so that’s all I care about is trying to be as healthy as possible.”

Despite Murray’s absence the entire second half the Nuggets were able to survive the Miami Heat 103-97 thanks to a giant game from Michael Porter Jr. The tall forward led Denver’s fifth-straight win with 30 points on 23 shots, adding 11 rebounds.

“I felt Michael’s baskets in this offense kind of carry the day to give us that separation,” Malone said. “It was great to see Michael step up with the way he did in Portland when Jamal didn’t play in that game in the second half, and Mike was outstanding. Tonight Jamal didn’t play in the second half Mike was outstanding.”

It was the Nuggets second game in two days where they held their opponent under 100 points, the fifth time they’ve accomplished that feat this year. The Heat were banged up and playing a third game in four nights seeking a sixth win in a row but Denver was able to overcome their own heavy legs to play extremely physical defense and twice holding the Heat to 20 points or less in a quarter.

“Very reminiscent of our NBA Finals games, keeping them right below 100 points,” Malone said. “When you have a winning streak, it’s always going to coincide with playing good defense for us at least because that’s where it starts. And that’s why we were able to win last year, it was a defense in the playoffs. We have a tough game in LA coming up and then we have a couple of really tough teams coming into Ball Arena start so that defense has to continue these final 23 games.”

It was Nikola Jokic’s first game post All-Star Break without a triple-double as the star took a backseat to MPJ and Aaron Gordon.

Denver has a third game in four nights, traveling to Los Angeles to face the Lakers on Saturday. Then the Nuggets are home for a quartet of games, hosting the Suns, Celtics, Jazz and Raptors.

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