Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets entered Monday night’s action against the Golden State Warriors at 34-19 on the season and in the midst of a tremendous run.
Following what we saw from Murray’s Nuggets in the NBA bubble last season at Walt Disney World in Orlando, this team looked to be a legit NBA title contender. While there were some initial struggles in 2020-21, Denver picked it up big time recently by winning eight of its previous nine games.
Monday’s game in San Francisco included Warriors star Stephen Curry dropping 53 points in front of a national audience to overtake the great Wilt Chamberlain as the greatest scorer in franchise history. While that was the major backdrop, the empty Chase Center got even quieter within the final minute of the game.
That’s when Murray went down in pain after driving to the hoop. He grabbed for his left knee. It looked bad. Both Warriors and Nuggets players immediately reacted to the injury, with Curry himself throwing up his arms in disgust.
A game that was pretty much over with Golden State ultimately coming out on top concluded with Murray suffering a season-ending torn ACL. It was a brutal scene, one that reminded us of the Gordon Hayward and Paul George injuries from years before.
It also dramatically changes the landscape for both the Nuggets and the rest of the Western Conference as the 2020-21 NBA regular season enters its stretch run. Here are three immediate takeaways from the devastating injury.
Denver’s championship aspirations took a major hit with the 24-year-old star guard going down to injury. Remember how clutch Murray was for the Nuggets during their run to the Western Conference Finals last season in Orlando? Here’s a dude who averaged 26.5 points, 6.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds on 51% shooting in the playoffs.
Sure there were some initial struggles from Murray this season. Despite them, he picked it up big-time before suffering the torn ACL Monday evening. In what will ultimately be his final 10 games of the campaign, Murray averaged 23.0 points on a resounding 45% shooting from distance. He was rounding into the bubble version of the star guard we saw last season.
What makes this even more disastrous from Denver’s perspective is that this injury came just a couple weeks after an NBA trade deadline in which the Nuggets pulled off a blockbuster trade for Aaron Gordon. In retrospect, the Nuggets would have used the assets acquired in that trade on a point guard. Instead, they are now looking at the likes of Austin Rivers on the free-agent market. Ouch!
As of right now, Denver finds itself as the fourth seed in the Western Conference with a 34-20 record. If the season were to end today, the Nuggets would take on the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round — a rematch of last year’s conference finals.
Nevertheless, Denver is only 4.5 games ahead of the seventh-seed Dallas Mavericks right now. There’s now a darn good chance that the likes of the Lakers, Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers will overtake Denver for the fourth seed. Why is that so important? As more Americans get vaccinated and fans start attending more games, home-court advantage in this year’s playoffs is going to be pretty big.
As for the Lakers, getting a top-four seed while returning LeBron James and Anthony Davis from injury could act as a boon as they attempt to repeat as champions. All of these represent unfortunate takeaways from the Murray injury.
To be perfectly clear, Jokic has been an MVP candidate throughout the season. That was the case before Murray’s injury. It’s now going to be taken to a whole new level with the Nuggets’ second-best player sidelined for the foreseeable future. Again, this is an unfortunate takeaway.
Jokic, 26, will walk away with the top individual honor if his Nuggets are able to maintain their position as a top-four seed and he continues to play at a high level. The three-time All-Star is averaging 26.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists on the season. Considering the injury issues we’ve seen surround other top NBA MVP candidates, this award is now his to lose.