On April 12, 2021, Nuggets level guard Jamal Murray rebounded a missed 3 from the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and accelerated into the frontcourt together with his group down 111-104 on the highway. Murray didn’t have a lot time to assist the Nuggets, as the sport was within the last minute of regulation.

He had a step on Andrew Wiggins and ran previous Kent Bazemore, and neither Curry nor Draymond Green was in place to problem Murray on the rim. It appeared just like the 2016 lottery pick of Kentucky was going to attain simply to make it a two-possession sport. But as Murray launched within the paint, he misplaced the ball awkwardly and tumbled into the stanchion, grabbing his left knee on the Chase Center flooring. No foul was known as, making it Murray’s fourth turnover and Denver’s twentieth. But that was the least of anybody’s issues.

Murray had torn the ACL in his left knee. Nine days after the harm, he underwent surgical procedure in Southern California to reconstruct his knee and was dominated out indefinitely. He doesn’t depend his two preseason video games as his return date, because the Oct. 3 dwelling sport towards the Thunder by which Murray performed was 539 days after his preliminary harm.

“Five hundred fifty-something days,” Murray advised The Athletic.

When Murray acquired harm, he says he consulted with “everybody who had an injury” as he started his rehabilitation course of, an inventory that included Chicago’s Zach LaVine, Miami’s Victor Oladipo, the Warriors’ Klay Thompson and present Clipper John Wall.

“Everybody that had an injury, a major injury, reached out,” Murray stated. “Just told me, just stay with the grind, it’s going to be a marathon, and I can’t look at the couple days ahead. I got to look down the line and know that my time is coming.”

Murray was cleared bodily to play in early April, simply earlier than the Nuggets and two-time MVP Nikola Jokić started their first-round playoff sequence towards the eventual champion Warriors. But Murray was not one hundred pc, particularly mentally. He didn’t play in any respect within the 2021-22 season, and he didn’t play in what was a Warriors gentleman’s sweep. During Game 2 of the sequence, Murray appeared to handle his absence from the court docket, somewhat over a 12 months after his harm on the identical enviornment.

“It’s a lot of ups and downs, and you hear a lot of different things,” Murray advised The Athletic final week. “You just got to maintain your work ethic and just know that it’s going to be a long process for you to get back to what you want to do. You hear doubts, you hear rumors, you hear everything.”

The Nuggets hosted the Jazz to open their 2022-23 season on Oct. 19 — 555 days after Murray’s harm. But whereas he was again within the beginning lineup for a Nuggets group that has excessive expectations, it was nonetheless part of Murray’s return-to-play course of.

“You’ve just got to keep a level head and know that the work that I put in the weight room and rehabbing, I know that it’s going to show when it needs to show,” Murray stated. “So I just kind of stuck to that. Didn’t get too high, didn’t get too low. And now this is the fun part of my rehab, is just figuring it out.”

It seems Murray is doing simply that. The Nuggets have gained 5 of their previous six, and Murray has hit the 20-point mark in 5 of the previous six video games by which he’s performed, although he’s had sporadic large moments because the begin of the season. His first dunk got here within the second week, proper in entrance of LeBron James to wash up a quick break — Murray dunked a second time in the identical sport as effectively.

The following week, Murray had his first string of consecutive 20-point video games, highlighted by a reverse dunk on the highway towards Oklahoma City. That led second-year Nuggets level guard Bones Hyland to declare that Murray was again.

But what has actually stood out about Murray’s sport is how in management he has been offensively. While Jokić nonetheless leads the Nuggets in assists per sport (8.9), Murray has been a robust caretaker, averaging 4.8 assists per sport and only one.9 turnovers. That 2.48 assist-to-turnover ratio is a profession excessive for Murray, and he’s getting higher currently.

In a highway sport towards the LA Clippers final week, Murray had 9 assists and just one turnover. His greatest dime was on the finish of the primary half whereas working a pick-and-roll with Jokić. Murray pivoted on the elbow with Amir Coffey defending from behind. Murray acquired Coffey within the air with an up faux, then stepped into the lane to draw the eye of Ivica Zubac. As Zubac reacted, Jokić made himself out there within the paint simply outdoors the free-throw circle, and Murray discovered him for a floater. Overall, the Nuggets outscored the Clippers by 22 factors in Murray’s minutes, a season-best plus-minus for Murray.

“I’ll just say my pace is a little bit different,” Murray stated after the Nuggets beat the Clippers, compiling his third sport of the season with at the least 9 assists and no multiple turnover. “It’s just more relaxed. I’m not forcing, I’m not making jumping hangtime passes where I’m getting myself into trouble. I’m just being a little more aware of my surroundings and moving at a better tempo. I think that’s helped me to be able to read the defense better and make passes without turning it over, and getting to my spots.”

And as talked about, the scoring is beginning to come again as effectively. Murray scored 21 factors towards the Clippers, however it was on 9-of-21 taking pictures. When the Nuggets hosted the Rockets for a miniseries, Murray had his two greatest scoring video games of the season, scoring a season-high 31 factors (11 of 17 subject targets) on Nov. 28 and following it up with 26 factors (9 of 15 subject targets) on Nov. 30. It was the primary time because the first spherical towards the Jazz in 2020 that Murray had back-to-back video games of 60 p.c taking pictures. In that sequence, he hit 50 factors twice. And Murray enters Friday’s highway sport towards the Atlanta Hawks on a season-best three-game streak of scoring at the least 20 factors.

“I’m just taking it game-by-game,” Murray advised The Athletic earlier than the Rockets video games. “I feel like at the start of the season, first couple of games, I was just happy to be there. Just not forcing it, not really going to the rim, not really being aggressive. Just kind of letting the ball come to me, and I’ll figure it out. But now it’s forcing the issue more, getting to the paint, taking off dunking, all that stuff. So everything’s starting to come back, and the confidence is starting to come back.”

Only the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns have extra wins than the 14-7 Nuggets coming into Friday’s video games. Murray is again with Jokić in an offense that ranks third in effectivity, largely due to the elite taking pictures from the sector general (49.8 p.c, second in NBA) and from 3 (40.4 p.c, additionally second).

Murray’s effectivity as a shooter isn’t fairly what it was simply but. He’s making 44.5 p.c of his subject targets (down from 47.7 p.c in 2021) and 37.9 p.c of his 3s (down from 40.8 p.c in 2021). He continues to be in the midst of his rehab; it’s simply that now, enjoying video games is a part of the method. And Murray has a aim to maintain progressing, throughout winter and into the postseason, when the Nuggets might be trying to win the Western Conference for the primary time as a NBA franchise.

“It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re so far away,” Murray stated. “So just sticking to the weight room and sticking to my rehab routine was really crucial, and not getting too ahead of myself and thinking I got to do all kinds of crazy stuff in the game.

“I just got to take my time and be ready for April. And that’s when I’ll hopefully see the best version of myself.”

(Photo of Jamal Murray: Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today)



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