He looked ready. Voluntary, at worst. Jamal Murray feinted down the right wing, then bodied his man with a wicked smile, every bump from the back bringing the pair closer to the lane.
In one sharp motion, the blue arrow turned, suspended in the air as if 2021 had never happened, and fired. Rustling.
Left winger, same exercise, same result. Feint. To bump. To bump. To bump. Turn. Hang. Rustling.
The Nuggets’ best backcourt performance last Friday night at the Ball Arena came 25 minutes before kickoff with Minnesota.
The most backyard joy came from watching Murray, nearly a year away from that horrific tear in his left knee, squealing during warm-ups against Denver staffers, grinding with physicality, grinding with contact, grinding at game speed.
“His mind (feel) is there,” Nuggets teammate Monte Morris noted after Denver’s 136-130 loss. “He’s ready to come back there.”
If he’s ready, now is the time. It’s time to go out and test. With Murray, it’s now or never, at least as far as the continuation of this erratic and unpredictable 2021-22 season is concerned.
The Nuggets have four regular season games left, starting with Sunday’s visit to the Los Angeles Lakers chasing (and healing) the playoffs. After Denver took a punch to the kidneys at home from a desperate group of Timberwolves, any 3-7 seed in the Western Conference bracket is mathematically on the table with one more week of the game. regular season to go.
Would it be ideal to drop Murray, who hasn’t played since April 12 of last year, in the heat of a playoff chase? Absolutely not. Corn some the rise of the NBA Playoffs, where the volume increases and the gloves come off, would be better than none at all.
“I told Jamal, if you’re not 100% ready, don’t come back. That’s stupid,” Nuggets headliner and NBA MVP Nikola Jokic said. “You risk (being injured again) if you’re not 100% ready to go. Especially in the playoffs.
Amen. It’s not just a matter of timing. It’s about the temperature. The NBA regular season has a code. The NBA playoffs have a list of hits. Nothing in this equation is more important than Murray’s career, health and livelihood.
That said, it’s time for the Nuggets to put an end to being shy and cute. Time passed, in fact.
“(Murray) wants to be back,” coach Michael Malone said Friday.
Awesome! So let’s do this…
“But I can’t sit here and say he’s going to play one of the last four games,” the coach continued. “But I can’t say he won’t either.”
Breaking the chains of the media is good. Draw on the hopes of a fan base that already feels clinging to land somewhere between courteous trolling and biting the hands that feed you.
We media sages are not entitled to anything, let alone an honest answer. Faithful nuggets? The faithful nuggets are long overdue. Stop teasing. Just tell them. Is the arrow in it? Where did he go?
“Jamal is getting better every day,” Malone said. “Believe me, we all want him back. I want him back. We are a better team with Jamal Murray.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? After the Suns and maybe the Grizzlies, the West is wide open. On Saturday afternoon, just 4.5 games separated the projected 3 seed (Golden State) from the potential 7 seed (Minnesota).
Even 16 to 18 minutes per game from Murray, if it’s 100% Murray, it’s 16 to 18 minutes better. It’s one more star for opposing defenses to take into account. One more headache on top of the other guy’s recognition report. One more chance to max out Jokic at his peak.
Teams respect Will Barton. They respect Austin Rivers. They respect Bones Hyland. To a point. They fear Murray. There is a difference.
And if last Friday was any indication, does this team miss the blue arrow against quality, motivated opposition. Minnesota’s top four guards beat their Nuggets peers 59-45 and shot 9 of 19 (.473) from beyond the arc to Denver’s 7 of 24 (.292).
It wasn’t for lack of effort. A season where too many patchwork guys in the backyard have to carry more water makes everyone look pooped as they stagger to the finish line. Of the first 24 minutes of the tilt, Jokic played 22. Of the first 37 minutes, Jokic played 34. Despite all the trust Barton has from the coaching staff and his teammates, the dude looked completely gassed against Wolves, a 31-year-old wing moves to 40.
The next time the Nuggets dig themselves a hole, the threat of a new Murray, even within minutes, even in small doses, has the potential to dramatically accelerate the exit of said hole.
“He looks good,” Morris pointed out. “He dunks and everything, (with) both legs. It’s a matter of time, I guess.
And no time like the present.