Sports

Nuggets’ Porter not ruling out return vs. Warriors

SAN FRANCISCO — Injured Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., is holding out hope that he can play in his team’s first-round series against the Golden State Warriors.

“Right now, I’m taking it game by game. I’m not ruling anything out,” Porter told ESPN’s Andscape following the Nuggets’ 123-101 loss to the Warriors in Game 1 on Saturday night. “This is a thing I don’t ever want to deal with again, so I’m just taking my time. … I’m playing it game by game. Every morning I wake up and I know I’m feeling good. Every day I’m getting closer.”

Porter underwent lumbar spine surgery on Dec. 1 to address a lower back injury. It was his third back surgery since November 2017, when he played for the University of Missouri. The 6-foot-10, 218-pounder appeared hampered physically this season after averaging 9.9 points and 6.6 rebounds before being sidelined. He last played for the Nuggets on Nov. 6 against the Houston Rockets.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Feb. 27 that Porter was slated to return to the lineup sometime in March. But Porter told Andscape those hopes changed after he suffered a setback in his rehabilitation a month ago.

“I was feeling pretty good. Feeling ready to go. I was ready to step back up. Just got a tiny bit sore, so I realize about a month ago that I was good, but I was pushing myself too hard to get back,” he said. “I can do anything. I have no restrictions. But when I got back to playing full speed and doing everything, that’s when I just got a little sore. So, I just decided that if I feel perfect, I’m going to come back. If not, I’m going to take my time.”

When asked how his body feels now, Porter said: “I feel close to [perfect].”

The Nuggets opened their playoff series against Golden State without Porter, 2019 All-Star guard Jamal Murray and reserve guard Facundo Campazzo. Murray hasn’t played since tearing the ACL in his left knee in the playoffs last season. Campazzo served a one-game suspension during Game 1 for shoving Los Angeles Lakers guard Wayne Ellington a week ago. The Nuggets haven’t ruled out Porter and Murray returning. Game 2 between the Nuggets and Warriors is Monday night.

Porter played just three games at Missouri during the 2017-18 season because of back issues. ESPN’s No. 1-ranked prep player in the Class of 2017 went from being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft to the 14th selection to the Nuggets and missed his entire rookie season after back surgery.

He lived up to his potential during the 2020-21 season, averaging 19 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 3-pointers made per game, and the Nuggets rewarded him with a five-year extension worth at least $173 million that begins next season. Injuries have limited him to 125 regular-season games over four seasons.

“I love basketball and I’m putting my all into rehab,” he said. “I’d rather be putting my all on the court than rehab, but it’s there. It’s all a good chance to grow. Some days I can look at the positive. Some days I be stuck in the negative. But I’m trying to stay positive rather than the negative.

“People have counted me out before. I’m going to be back and better. It’s just a matter of time. People are caught up in the here and now. But this is not the last of me. I’ve been through this. I’m feeling good. I’ll be back better than ever. I have no doubt in my mind.”

Porter described the challenge of returning from his back injury being “more mental than physical” and was thankful for his athletic trainers during his rehab. He also credited his Christian faith for helping him get through the tough days.

“Through all my trials, through all my adversities I always go back to the bigger picture,” he said. “I go through things for a reason. I try to really learn from that. … I know in my eyes God always got a plan for me, so I try not to give in. When you go through injuries, when you work this hard, you realize that as hard as you work, a lot of things are left up in God’s hands.”

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