Not since Jamal Murray scored 50 points over the Utah Jazz in the NBA bubble in 2020 has the Denver Nuggets entered the playoffs as healthy as they are now.

Murray missed the team’s last two postseason trips after tearing his left knee on April 12, 2021, and back surgery also sidelined Michael Porter Jr. from last year’s playoffs.

Without two-thirds of Denver’s star power on the bench, Nikola Jokic shouldered the Nuggets’ fortunes in the playoffs in 2021 and 2022, and that burden proved too heavy even for a two-time NBA MVP.

He led the Nuggets past Portland in the first round two years ago with a starting lineup that included Austin Rivers and Facundo Campazzo. But that was followed by a four-game loss to Phoenix in the second round and a first-round exit last year when Denver lost to the championship-bound Golden State Warriors.


Those truncated playoff runs are a big source of doubt for national pundits and forecasters who don’t give the Nuggets much of a chance to reach their first NBA Finals despite winning the top seed in the West for the first time.

Another reason is their disappointing performance since February, as they’ve won just nine of their last 20 games, slogging down the stretch to finish with 53 wins, 11 fewer than the Suns won a year ago as the top seed in the Western Conference. .

Part of that can be attributed to the Nuggets navigating uncharted waters after climbing to the top of the conference standings well before Christmas and building a huge lead over second-place Memphis before March.

Coach Michael Malone prioritized healthy minds and bodies over pace and records when he decided to rest some of his starters down the stretch.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic brings the ball up court during the first half of a game against the Utah Jazz on April 8, 2023, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Jokic has missed five of the last seven games with a tight calf, a move that could have allowed Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid to edge out the 280-pound Serb in the tight MVP race.

Jokic has never expressed his desire to win the Michael Jordan Trophy for the third time in a row. He also doesn’t seem to mind basketball fans predicting another early outing for his Nuggets, who will face the winner of the Thunder-Timberwolves play-in game in Round 1 beginning Sunday night at Ball Arena.


«It’s not like we’re wanting one team over the other,» Porter said. «We have to prepare and worry about ourselves.»

Denver was an NBA best 34-7 at home and Jokic is counting on home-field advantage to help the Nuggets in the playoffs.

Sure, they aspire «to be the best team on the planet,» Jokic said, but «I’m just thinking about the next game. I’m not thinking about the finish line.»

He’s grateful to have Murray and Porter by his side for these playoffs.

«Yes, then we can see: are we capable of doing anything when we are completely healthy?» Jokic said. «Every year we’re missing a guy or two. So hopefully this year we’ll stay healthy.»

The Nuggets are still dealing with some aches and pains: Jokic’s calf, Murray’s thumb, Porter’s foot.

Murray said he hasn’t reached that point yet where he doesn’t think about his sore right thumb: «It’s my throwing hand so it’s a bit annoying but I’ll be fine.»


«We’re just trying to get through the little bumps and bruises,» said Jokic, who had his left wrist taped during an intense practice Thursday that was designed to simulate a game in the middle of his bye week.

«I’m glad we’re healthy,» Jokic said, «That’s the most important thing, that we’re going to go out there and compete and fight like any other team.»

With a full complement of players.