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Mike Malone believes Jamal Murray is back on track for the Denver Nuggets

If Murray can play like he did during the 2020 bubble for Denver, they would quickly emerge as serious title contenders in the upcoming season
Mike Malone believes Jamal Murray is back on track for the Denver Nuggets

As Murray’s rehab reaches its final stages, Nuggets head coach Mike Malone has been encouraged by his progress

The Denver Nuggets have been stuck in neutral for the past two seasons. They made it to the Western Conference Finals during the 2020 NBA bubble, and even though they ended up coming up short that season, the emergence of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray as a top-tier duo gave Denver confidence that they would be a contender for years to come.

Unfortunately, those plans were put on hold when Murray tore his ACL midway through the 2020-21 season. Murray would go on to miss the rest of that season and the entire 2021-22 season, and with just Jokic carrying the load, the Nuggets failed to make their mark on the playoffs over the past two seasons.

Malone is encouraged by Murray’s recovery

Murray’s emergence as one of the top scorers in the league throughout the bubble helped Denver become a very dangerous team out in the West. But with all the time he’s been forced to miss, the Nuggets have largely been stuck waiting for him to return. Murray has a lot of expectations surrounding his eventual return because once he does return, the Nuggets will finally be back on track.

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As Murray’s rehab reaches its final stages, Nuggets head coach Mike Malone has been encouraged by his progress. Malone noted that Murray’s most recent 5-on-5 action was the most intense work he has put in since his ACL injury, which should be music for Nuggets fans’ ears.

“He was mobile, agile, hostile, versatile. … He looked comfortable. He looked confident. That’s the most important thing.” - Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets Press Conference.

Could Murray be what the Nuggets need to become a championship contender?

Placing championship expectations on one player returning from injury may seem foolish, but Murray is the final piece to the puzzle for Denver. They already have one of the top players in the league in Jokic, and with Michael Porter Jr., who functions as a solid third option behind both Jokic and Murray, also set to come back from injury, things are looking up for Denver.

But as we have seen the past two seasons, Denver doesn’t have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with the rest of the Western Conference without Murray. Murray’s ability to play off of Jokic and score on his own helps open things up for the rest of his teammates. With just Jokic on the court, teams with good defenses often put more attention on him, and the Nuggets haven’t been able to overcome that.

With Murray back on the court, the Nuggets won’t only get a top player in the league back, but they will also take some of the burden off Jokic’s shoulders. Jokic has won back-to-back MVP awards despite having to do most of his work without Murray on the floor; you can only wonder how good he will be with his partner in crime back on the floor.

The Nuggets were on the verge of greatness before Murray’s injury, and while there are still a lot of question marks surrounding his return to the floor, this could be what pushes Denver back to the top of the Western Conference. Murray’s skills may be a bit rusty at first, but if he can come back and play like he did during the 2020 bubble, the Nuggets could be a dark horse championship contender next season.

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