After an embarrassing collapse against the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this week, the Denver Nuggets bounced back in a major way on Thursday night with a dominant 32-point win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Off the court, there was encouraging news as well. 

Talented young forward Michael Porter Jr., who underwent back surgery in December, felt immediate relief after the procedure. While the Nuggets are still expected to be cautious with his recovery, both the team and Porter remain hopeful he can play again this season, according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post. 

Just a few games into the season, Porter was out on a solo fast break against the Houston Rockets, and when he tried to go up for a dunk he got no lift. The initial reaction was to laugh at an admittedly comical miss, but as Porter hobbled back down the floor it was clear that something wasn’t right. He checked out of the game soon after and hasn’t played since. 

Following a few weeks of consultation with doctors, he underwent surgery on Dec. 1. At that time, reports suggested he was likely out for the season. That still may be the case, but it’s encouraging that the Nuggets are at least holding out hope he can return — not just in terms of what that could mean for this season, but what it suggests for his long-term outlook. 

With Jamal Murray out until some time in the spring as he continues to rehab from a torn ACL, and Porter’s return up in the air, this has essentially become a lost season for the Nuggets. Nikola Jokic is doing his best to carry them, but they aren’t a contender. Even if Murray and Porter come back late in the season or for the playoffs, they’re going to need time to re-acclimate, and it’s hard to imagine that would be enough to push the Nuggets ahead of the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns or Utah Jazz. 

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But looking out beyond this season, this is still a young core; Jokic, Murray and Porter are all 26 or younger. They can still have a bright future together, but only if Murray and Porter can get back to their pre-injury levels and remain healthy. That’s an especially big “if” with Porter, who has had extensive back problems so far in his career. He missed time in college and his rookie season following previous back surgeries and has only played in 125 games since being drafted in 2018. 

When he has been on the floor, though, the signs have been encouraging. He’s a stellar shooter and scorer, with an un-blockable high release. Last season he averaged 19 points per game on 44.5 percent from 3-point land, which earned him a five-year, $173 million extension in the offseason. In one version of the future, that player helps make the Nuggets a legitimate threat in the Western Conference. In another, he becomes known for having one of the worst contracts in the league.

Only time will tell which way things go, but there seems to be a lot of positivity in Denver that it won’t be the latter. In addition to hopes that he can still play again this season, Porter said recently that he was in a “really good place” in his recovery, and is already back on the court working out. 

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