Despite major injury, Nuggets still confident they can continue to roll to NBA title
In the immediate aftermath of Jamal Murray’s season-ending injury, conventional wisdom suggested the Denver Nuggets’ season was essentially over.
Th Nuggets, who improved to 42-21 after their win over the Toronto Raptors on Thursday, had gone all-in on a championship this season when they acquired Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic at the trade deadline. And the Nuggets won the first seven games with him in the lineup.
Then Murray, who had a star turn during the NBA bubble last season in Orlando, suffered a season-ending ACL injury on April 12 against the Warriors. The trajectory changed for a team that was thought to have a legitimate title shot, and their fully-loaded bandwagon suddenly had plenty of space available.
The Nuggets have gone 8-1 since Murray’s injury. And those seemingly dashed title hopes don’t seem as far-fetched.
Michael Porter Jr., who scored 23 points in Thursday's win over the Raptors, has helped the Nuggets overcome the season-ending injury to Jamal Murray. (Photo: David Zalubowski, AP)
“I mean, (I’ve been) an underdog my whole life, to be honest,” Nuggets center Nikola Jokic told reporters earlier this month. “And I’m kind of used to it. It’s (a) normal option for me.”
He later added, “And (it) gives us a lot of kind of relief. We’re not going to be tense. We’re just going to play.”
The Nuggets are just a half-game behind the Clippers for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with a little over two weeks remaining in the regular season.
Gordon has been a revelation for the Nuggets, especially on the defensive end. But Michael Porter Jr., who could have been the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft if not for injury concerns, has played like a superstar-in-waiting. Porter is averaging 23.9 points in April.
YOU GOTTA LOVE THIS SQUAD pic.twitter.com/ZdVYAtsA68
As for Jokic? He is averaging 26.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.6 assists this season. His scoring has edged up to 29.2 points since Murray’s injury.
“This is the point you want to be at,” Porter said. “Nine, 10 games until playoffs, so this is the fun. We have to make sure we're in prime-time shape and ready to go once the playoffs start.”
Showing off in front of dad
Tim Hardaway Jr. has been the forgotten man in the Mavericks’ trade that landed Kristaps Porzingis before the trade deadline in 2019. But if the Mavs are ever going to reach title-contending status, they will need a large contribution from him.
Hardaway Jr. scored a career-high 42 points, helping the short-handed Mavs beat the short-handed Pistons, 115-105. Hardaway Jr. scored 17 points in a row during a fourth-quarter stretch to break open a tight game. His family was in attendance in Detroit, including his father, Tim Hardaway Sr.
“When Pops is in the building, I don’t know what it is. These things happen,” Hardaway Jr. said.
Tim Hardaway Jr. dropped a career-high 42 points with his dad in attendance 🙏@dallasmavs | @T_HardJRpic.twitter.com/ATCYtLSFVX
Williamson’s rookie season now complete
It’s been an unconventional start for Pelicans’ forward Zion Williamson. Because of injuries and COVID-19 protocols, he has had an uneven start to his career.
But the most celebrated NBA prospect since LeBron James completed his 82nd career game on Thursday, finishing with 27 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. In his first “full” season, Williamson has averaged 25.5 points and 6.9 rebounds while shooting 61% from the field. He was on the All-Rookie team his first year and made the All-Star team in his second season.
@PelicansNBA star @Zionwilliamson shares what a typical day off looks like between games. pic.twitter.com/s3bjCCwOIH
Kevin Porter Jr.’s 3-point barrage
The Rockets shot 25 of 46 from 3-point range during their win Thursday night over the Milwaukee Bucks. You might be excused if you thought James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon returned for cameo appearances. Instead, it was 20-year-old Kevin Porter Jr. leading the way, pouring in a career-high 50 points on 9 of 15 shooting from the 3-point line.
“After I saw the third 3 go down, I knew it was going to be a special night,” Porter said. “It was all up to me. I just stayed aggressive, and it was a good night.”
He joined LeBron James, Brandon Jennings and Devin Booker as the only players to score 50 points in a game before turning 21.
🚀 50 PTS (career high) for KPJ
🚀 11 AST
🚀 9 3PM (career high)
🚀 @HoustonRockets [email protected] becomes the YOUNGEST PLAYER in NBA history with 50+ POINTS and 10+ ASSISTS in a game! pic.twitter.com/l0kMbPNNuJ
Game of the night: Jazz at Suns
The fact that the Suns are fighting for the top spot in the Western Conference is still staggering considering where this franchise was just two seasons ago. Phoenix went 19-63 in 2018-19 — it averaged fewer than 22 wins over a four-year stretch from 2015-19 — but will face the Jazz tonight with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference on the line. The Suns beat the Lakers on Wednesday to clinch their first playoff berth since 2010, when they lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
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