Preview: Suns at Nuggets, 5:30 p.m., FOX Sports Arizona
Jamal Murray was quietly building an iron-man streak in his first two seasons in the NBA. The Denver point guard played in every one of the 126 games on the Nuggets’ schedule since being drafted in 2016.
He played his entire rookie season with a groin problem that required surgery in the offseason, and through several bumps and bruises. But concussion symptoms that arose on the flight to Los Angeles for Wednesday night’s game against the Clippers forced him out of the lineup and ended a modest but impressive streak.
Murray had cleared the concussion protocol during Tuesday’s win over Dallas, but symptoms arose later.
Now he has a new streak — consecutive games missed. Murray won’t be available when Denver hosts the Phoenix Suns on Friday night, further depleting a banged-up Nuggets roster. Denver coach Michael Malone said he won’t risk Murray’s health despite the player’s wishes.
“As much as I want Jamal Murray to play, and as much as I know it hurts him not to play,” Malone told The Denver Post on Wednesday. “I think it’s important for him to know that we have his well-being at heart. We never want to put any of our players out there if we don’t think that they’re ready to give us their best, or if they’re going to risk doing any further damage.”
Without Murray, the Nuggets blew a fourth-quarter lead and lost to the Los Angeles Clippers 109-104 to fall into ninth place in the Western Conference playoff race. Denver (23-22) has lost five of its last seven but hopes to end that slide against the 16-29 Suns.
Phoenix is dealing with its own injuries. Marquese Criss will miss the game with a nagging hip injury and may have an MRI exam to reveal the extent of the injury. The Suns will get T.J. Warren back in the starting lineup and Danuel House returns after missing the team’s recent road trip because of the flu.
Phoenix has lost three in a row and five of its last six, including a 118-111 loss in Portland on Tuesday night. The Trail Blazers shot 50.5 percent from the field and 48.6 percent from 3-point range, raising concerns about the Suns’ defense.
They allowed Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to combine for 58 points, nearly half Portland’s total.
The one bright spot was Devin Booker, who had 43 points, eight assists and six rebounds in the loss. Still, the defensive lapses bothered the young guard.
“I don’t know if it’s fatigue or what happened,” Booker told The Arizona Republic. “All of us have to be on our Ps and Qs while we’re out there and follow the game plan. You have to go over. It’s all shooters out there.”
The Nuggets hope to exploit that defense to start a five-game homestand. Denver is 15-5 at Pepsi Center this season and can put itself back in playoff position by protected its court over the next 10 days. It starts with Phoenix, and overcoming the absence of Murray’s 15.4 points per game.
Emmanuel Mudiay, who has fallen out of the rotation, came on to score 11 points in 15 minutes and will likely pick up more of Murray’s minutes Friday.
“No matter when you’re called upon, be ready to play,” Malone told The Denver Post. “Bring energy. Bring effort. Bring a defensive mindset. Play aggressively on offense with discipline.”