Jamal Murray took the blame for Denver’s home loss to the lowly Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, then delivered the game-winner at Charlotte two nights later.
The young guard saved the Nuggets from another unacceptable defeat, and now they turn their sights on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night and a measure of revenge for one of their head-scratching losses this season.
Cleveland came to Denver on Jan. 11 and stole a 111-103 win, one of the few bright spots in former Cleveland head coach John Beilein’s short tenure. Beilein has since stepped down as coach and J.B. Bickerstaff took over on Feb. 19.
After a brief upswing with three wins in four games under Bickerstaff, the Cavaliers have lost four in a row and have a firm grasp on last place in the Eastern Conference. They host a determined Denver team but may get two big pieces back to battle Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic.
Tristan Thompson and Andre Drummond both practiced Friday and appear close to returning. Thompson has missed the last three games with a left knee contusion and Drummond has sat out four of the last five games with a left calf strain.
“They’re close,” Bickerstaff told reporters Friday morning after practice. “They went through everything today, then we just have to see what the response is like tomorrow and we’ll decide whether or not they’re going to be able to go.”
Drummond was with Detroit when Cleveland beat Denver two months ago but he did play a role in the Pistons’ overtime win against the Nuggets on Feb. 2, going for 21 points and 17 rebounds. Detroit had a hard time stopping Jokic, who finished with one of his 12 triple-doubles in that loss.
Jokic’s last triple-double came Sunday against Toronto and he’s come close to a few more heading into Saturday’s matchup. He leads the team in scoring at 20.7 points per game and Murray is second at 18.7 points.
Murray has trended upward since returning from an ankle injury in early February, and he took the loss to Golden State hard, tweeting out after the game to put the loss on him.
His fadeaway in the final seconds at Charlotte rescued Denver but the bigger storyline coming out of that game was head coach Michael Malone not using rookie Michael Porter Jr. Malone opted to use Torrey Craig instead to give the Nuggets a stronger defensive presence.
Porter hadn’t been a healthy scratch in three months before Thursday. In between he has shown a dynamic scoring and rebounding ability but has had lapses on the defensive end.
“The reality is this: We were a 54-win team last year and we’re a team that has high aspirations this year,” Malone said after the win. “And yes, we want to develop Michael Porter, but we also have to find ways to win. And tonight, I just went with a group that I felt was going to give us the best chance to win. And so Mike’s just got to stay engaged and stay ready, and I have no doubt he will.”
Malone added that Porter could play Saturday.
–Field Level Media