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NBA Notebook: Murray's short return serves as reminder of Nuggets' power

Jamal Murray's return to the Denver Nuggets was brief, but it sure helped while it lasted. The guard from Kitchener, Ont.
Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) and Houston Rockets centre Alperen Sengun (28) in the first half of an NBA basketball game on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in Denver. Murray's return to the Denver Nuggets was brief, but it sure helped while it lasted. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/David Zalubowski

Jamal Murray's return to the Denver Nuggets was brief, but it sure helped while it lasted.

The guard from Kitchener, Ont., came back from an 11-game absence due to a hamstring injury and helped lead Denver to an offensively efficient 134-124 win over Houston last Wednesday. The defending NBA champion Nuggets went 6-5 without Murray. 

However, Murray injured his ankle after he came down awkwardly on a missed contested shot at the rim two minutes into the game and walked gingerly back to the bench after a Nuggets timeout. He's missed the two games since Wednesday's win, with Denver going 1-1.

"You could tell he wasn't moving great but just having him back out there — 16 (points) six (rebounds) and six (assists) in the first game back in 22 minutes is pretty impressive. And he's not even healthy," Nuggets head coach Mike Malone said post-game Wednesday.

"Great to have Jamal back and hopefully he'll find a way to get that ankle healthy."

Denver had one of its better offensive outings of the season with Murray back in the fold, going 19-for-43 from three-point range with 37 assists to just three turnovers as Denver improved its NBA-best home record to 9-0.

Murray was welcomed with a roaring “He’s back!” from the public address announcer and a hearty ovation from the home crowd before tip-off.

The Nuggets had lost twice to the Rockets in November, including a 19-point defeat in Houston five days earlier.

While the Nuggets remain one of the best teams in the NBA — third in the Western Conference at 14-7 — Murray's return from injury last season contributed to their rise from a strong regular-season team to a championship one in 2022-23. 

The 26-year-old missed the 2021-22 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee but played a big role in Denver's post-season success alongside two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. Murray averaged 26.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists in 20 contests during the title run.

"We feel (more) confident with him," Jokic said post-game Wednesday. "We know he's going to get everybody involved and just playing with him so long, it feels normal and natural."

Murray is averaging 16.3 points and a career-high 7.3 assists over eight games this year. 

While he said his hamstring was "fine," he made his feelings clear on having to deal with back-to-back injuries.

"It's just frustrating," he said Wednesday. "I'm just glad we won. Great team win, everybody played well."


The Indiana Pacers are on to Las Vegas for the semifinals of the NBA In-Season Tournament after a 122-112 quarterfinal win over the East-leading Boston Celtics on Monday

Sophomore guard Bennedict Mathurin, from Montreal, chipped in 16 points off the bench in the victory. Alongside Aurora, Ont., native Andrew Nembhard, Indiana has two young Canadians on its squad.

Mathurin, 21, was the sixth-overall pick of the 2022 draft. He had an impressive rookie season in 2022-23, averaging 16.7 points in 78 games and making the NBA all-rookie first team.

While his scoring average has dipped to 13.2 on a stronger Indiana squad than last year, he's still a key young piece the upstart Pacers who sit sixth in the Eastern Conference.

— With files from The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2023.

Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press