Speaking Wednesday for the first time since the Nuggets announced they will be without their star point guard indefinitely, Malone said the team could see Murray’s anguish over the season-ending injury.
“It’s been an emotional 24, 36 hours,” Malone said before the Nuggets routed the Miami Heat, 123-106. “Jamal is devastated, understandably so. I think the team is also a little. We understand the importance of Jamal Murray. We are a better team when Jamal Murray is healthy. … He is almost second in every major [statistical] category on the team behind Nikola [Jokic].”
In their first game without Murray, the Nuggets had six players score in double-figures to halt a two-game slide. Carrying title aspirations that were bolstered by last month’s trade for Aaron Gordon, the Nuggets now are adapting to life trying to contend in the West without their point guard, who scored 50 points twice in last season’s first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz.
“It’s a sad thing, of course,” Jokic said. “Me and him, we have a lot of connections on the floor. We are really good with each other on the court, and we are going to miss him on the team. He is a big part of our team, but that doesn’t mean we are going to quit, you know?
“It’s a really bad thing that happened to us, but we need to keep moving [forward].”
Murray was injured with 50.6 seconds remaining in the Nuggets’ 116-107 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday night. The point guard averaged 21.2 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds while shooting 47.7% from the field this season.
Malone told his team before facing the Heat that they shouldn’t waste the remaining games they have in the regular season and the opportunity they have to contend in the Western Conference.
The Nuggets’ head coach said he saw his team play with joy on Wednesday, just over 24 hours after they flew with a “devastated” Murray from San Francisco back to Denver.
“It was really hard. We stayed over for that game in San Francisco,” Malone said. “Just sitting with him on the way to the airport, your heart breaks because you can see the raw emotion that he was feeling.”
Denver (35-20) has often thrived in the role of underdog. The Nuggets overcame a 3-1 deficit in the first and second round last postseason to advance to the Western Conference finals.
Now the Nuggets will try to surprise people again without Murray.
“I mean, I’m the underdog my whole life to be honest,” said Jokic, who had 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds against Miami. “I am kind of used to it. It is normal position for me.
“[Playing the role of underdog] gives us a lot of relief. We are not going to be tense. We are just going to play. We just need to figure these 16, 17 games, how we want to play. We need to build it. It is not going to happen in a moment.”