Jamal Murray, MPJ return from injuries in Nuggets’ preseason opener


Jamal Murray kicked his healthy legs back for the second half. His work, a benchmark moment amid his ACL recovery, was already done.

A few seats down from him sat Michael Porter Jr., who also returned for his first unofficial game Monday against Oklahoma City after undergoing back surgery early last season.

The result of the preseason opener – a 112-101 Thunder win – was inconsequential. Their dual returns were not and offered far more insight into their statuses than word of mouth or scant summer highlights.

Here’s what mattered from Monday’s contest.

Murray’s moment: Murray beckoned to the crowd to get louder. For as long as he’d been sidelined, he had every right to soak it in.

Murray kissed a smooth mid-range jumper off the glass to end the second quarter of Monday’s preseason opener against Oklahoma City, and basked in the feeling once again. For the first time since he tore his ACL in April of 2021, Murray’s showmanship bubbled over.

“That’s what I do,” Murray yelled.

He’d gotten a chance for his first point on a free throw five minutes into the first quarter but botched the attempt. Murray said he was laughing at all the eyes on him.

“It got to my head,” Murray said.

When his first basket fell – a transition 3-pointer from the corner off a look from Ish Smith – a smile swept across his face.

Practice against your own teammates is one thing. This was NBA competition. And the joy Murray felt was unmistakable.

During pre-game introductions, Murray was introduced last. As his name boomed from the PA system, Murray was mobbed by teammates. They saw firsthand the pain he endured missing two postseason runs. Malone wanted Murray to not think about his return and just to play. The steely 25-year-old did, flashing his old scoring prowess and reenacting his famous pick-and-roll dance with Nikola Jokic.

The league’s two-time reigning MVP knew this was Murray’s return. He was more than content to play a supporting role. Murray ended the game with 10 points, all of which came in the second quarter.

Here comes MPJ: To no one’s surprise, Porter had zero hesitation upon returning to the court.

He got several shots up only two minutes into the first quarter, and whenever he found a window, he launched. His first basket came off a look from Aaron Gordon — despite Jokic calling for the pass.

On another sequence late in the second quarter, Jokic passed ahead to Porter in transition. The 6-foot-10 sniper promptly pulled up and buried a jumper. Porter is an invaluable shooting weapon, but it can’t come at the expense of the rest of the offense. That integration, with Murray getting his rhythm back and Jokic learning to play with two other offensive focal points, could be rocky at times.

“Do your job within the team concept,” is what Malone told both Murray and Porter prior to tip-off.

Porter led all starters with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including two 3-pointers.

In deference to his other offensive firehoses, Jokic took just one shot on Monday night. And he only took it because it came in the flow of offense and out of respect for Murray’s pick-and-roll.


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