The Denver Nuggets snapped their two-game losing streak, with an impressive 123-106 win over the Miami Heat as they look to keep their postseason hopes alive.
Winning their first game since star point guard Jamal Murray suffered a season-ending ACL injury, the Nuggets were led by Nikola Jokic's 15th triple-double of the season, with the Serbian big man recording 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, but it was the inspired play of forward Michael Porter Jr. that offered the most hope that they can keep their championship goals on course, despite missing their second-best player.
The 22-year old has been on fire of late, making a strong case to be named the Most Improved Player of the Year and now with Murray sidelined, Denver will need the 6'10" dynamo to not only continue his recent play, but take things to another level.
Porter Jr. did just that against the Heat, connecting on nine of his first 10 shots, on his way to his 15th double-double of the season, recording 25 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks on 10-of-14 from the field.
"There's no replacing Jamal, but I try to do my part to help," Porter Jr. said.
He has scored 20+ points in nine of the past 11 games and while replacing Murray's production, playmaking and scoring is going to be a tall order for the Nuggets, their MVP candidate in Jokic, flanked by two uber-athletic forwards in Porter Jr. and Aron Gordon is a good place to start.
"I know what I'm capable of, so whether Jamal is out there or not, just try to help the team win," Porter said. "I know how to play basketball, so I'll pick my spots and just be as aggressive as I've been recently."
Can we talk about that pass from Nikola... pic.twitter.com/yy58s94vzH- Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) April 15, 2021
Gordon has been a revelation since being traded to Denver from Orlando, shooting an efficient 56.9 percent from the field (the highest mark in his career), cutting to the basket, running off Jokic and getting to the paint with ease, while Porter Jr. is connecting on 53.8 percent of his field goals this season and impressively stepping back and connecting on 42.3 percent of his 3-point attempts.
The second-year forward has also made big strides on the defensive end this season, using his size and length to bother bigs from the weak side and for coach Malone, getting everyone to step up on both sides of the floor will be the key ahead of the playoffs.
"As bad as we feel for Jamal, we have 18 games to go, and we have to find a way to collect ourselves and understand the opportunity we have in front of us," head coach Mike Malone said."… How do we re-group, collect ourselves, collect our emotions and move forward? And not one guy on our team can replace Jamal. It's going to take a collective effort. We need everybody's best."
Playing without Murray, who was so instrumental to their success in last season's bubble, the fourth-seed Nuggets (35-20) can turn to the likes of Monte Morris and Facundo Campazzo for stretches running point, while it appears veteran guard Austin Rivers could soon be in a Nuggets uniform, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.
Free agent guard Austin Rivers and the Denver Nuggets are in serious talks toward a deal, pending health and safety protocols, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium.- Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) April 14, 2021
While adding an experienced guard like Rivers will bring balance to their rotation, Porter Jr. will only have more opportunities to take a leading role on offence and if the Nuggets are going anywhere this season, they'll need him to do just that.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.