Not since Jamal Murray was dropping 50 factors on the Utah Jazz again within the NBA’s bubble in 2020 have the Denver Nuggets entered the playoffs as wholesome as they’re now.
Murray missed the staff’s final two journeys to the postseason after tearing up his left knee on April 12, 2021, and again surgical procedure stored Michael Porter Jr. out of final yr’s playoffs, as effectively.
With out two-thirds of Denver’s star energy on the bench, Nikola Jokic shouldered the Nuggets’ playoff fortunes in 2021 and ’22, and that burden proved too heavy even for a two-time NBA MVP.
He did lead the Nuggets previous Portland within the opening spherical two years in the past with a beginning lineup that included Austin Rivers and Facundo Campazzo. However that was adopted by a four-game loss to Phoenix within the second spherical and a first-round exit final yr when Denver misplaced to the championship-bound Golden State Warriors.
These truncated playoff runs are a giant supply of doubt for nationwide pundits and prognosticators who aren’t giving the Nuggets much of an opportunity to achieve their first NBA Finals regardless of incomes the highest seed within the West for the primary time.
One more reason is their underwhelming play since February as they gained simply 9 of their ultimate 20 video games, slogging by way of the homestretch to complete with 53 wins, 11 fewer that the Suns gained a yr in the past as the highest seed within the Western Convention.
A few of that may be blamed on the Nuggets navigating unchartered waters after surging to the highest of the convention standings effectively earlier than Christmas and constructing a giant lead over second-place Memphis heading into March.
Coach Michael Malone prioritized wholesome minds and our bodies over rhythm and information when he selected to relaxation a few of his starters down the stretch.
Jokic missed 5 of the final seven video games with a good calf, a transfer that may have allowed Philadelphia huge man Joel Embiid to overhaul the 280-pound Serb within the tightly contested MVP race.
Jokic has by no means expressed a want to win the Michael Jordan Trophy for a 3rd consecutive time. Nor does he appear to care in regards to the basketball buffs forecasting one other early exit for his Nuggets, who will face the winner of the Thunder-Timberwolves play-in sport in Spherical 1 starting Sunday evening at Ball Area.
“It isn’t like we’re wishing for one staff over the opposite,” Porter stated. “We have simply bought to arrange ourselves and fear about ourselves.”
Denver was an NBA-best 34-7 at residence and Jokic is relying on the homecourt benefit serving to the Nuggets out within the playoffs.
Positive, he aspires “to be the perfect staff on the planet,” Jokic stated, however “I am simply occupied with the following sport. I am not occupied with the end line.”
He is simply grateful he has Murray and Porter alongside him for these playoffs.
“Sure, then we will see: Are we able to doing one thing once we are utterly wholesome?” Jokic stated. “Yearly we’re lacking one or two guys. So, hopefully this yr we will keep wholesome.”
The Nuggets are nonetheless coping with some aches and pains: Jokic’s calf, Murray’s thumb, Porter’s foot.
Murray stated he is nonetheless shy of that time the place he isn’t occupied with his sore proper thumb: “It is my capturing hand so it is just a little bothersome, however I will be wonderful.”
“We’re simply making an attempt to get round little bumps and bruises,” stated Jokic, who had his left wrist taped throughout an intense observe Thursday that was designed to simulate a sport in the midst of their week’s relaxation.
“I am simply glad that we’re wholesome,” Jokic stated, “That is crucial factor, that we’re going to go on the market and compete and struggle like each different staff.”
With a full complement of gamers.