Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr. leave the game vs. Rockets with lower back pain

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USATSIA

Just three minutes after the Denver Nuggets’ victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday, Michael Porter Jr. found himself on a fastbreak all alone after a loose ball bounced his way. It should have been showtime, but instead the young forward never really got off the ground as he embarrassingly missed the layup and appeared to injure himself.

While it’s not clear what exactly happened to that possession, Porter soon left the game for good due to lower back pain. After the game, Nuggets coach Michael Malone said: he has yet to speak to the team’s medical staff and had no update on Porter’s status.

It’s too early to say how serious this injury is, but it’s certainly concerning given Porter’s previous back problems. He missed most of his lone collegiate season in Missouri after undergoing back surgery, and concerns about his future health were why he fell all the way to 14th place in the 2018 NBA Draft. In fact, during the prep process, a Los Angeles Clippers doctor said Porter “probably wouldn’t play again.”

That prediction turned out to be wrong, but Porter ended up requiring another back surgery and missed the entire 2018-19 NBA season. To his credit, he has been largely healthy since then. Last season, he played in 71 of the possible 82 games between the regular season and the playoffs, playing in every game this season. The Nuggets hope this new problem is minor so that the trend can continue.

The Nuggets also hope that Porter can turn things around when he returns to the ground. He has gotten off to a brutal start this season, averaging 9.9 points and 6.6 rebounds on 35.9 percent shots from the field and 20.8 percent from a 3-point range. That wouldn’t be good enough even if the Nuggets were completely healthy, but it’s especially problematic because they’re still without Jamal Murray.

Coming out of a breakout season, Porter is the linchpin that will determine the Nuggets’ fate as a Western Conference contender. As good as Nikola Jokic and Murray are for a 1-2 punch when healthy, the Nuggets still desperately need a third player who can handle some of the attacking responsibility. With his marksmanship and high-level shooting, Porter has the potential to fill that role, but so far he has been well below par this season. As a result, the Nuggets are 26th on offense and are just above .500 at 5-4.

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