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Jamal Murray grimaced in pain several times Tuesday night while shaking out his right shooting elbow against the Nets.
And suddenly, early struggles for the Nuggets’ star point guard were put into a new light.
“I’m sure that’s it’s bothering him to some extent,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Thursday before Denver hosted the Golden State Warriors at Ball Arena.
Murray, in his fifth NBA season, began the year with heightened expectations after breakout stardom inside the NBA playoff bubble, averaging 26.5 points (on 50% shooting) and 6.6 assists in leading Denver to a Western Conference Finals appearance. But he has yet to replicate that play on a game-to-game basis to begin this season.
This isn’t something that’s entirely new for Murray. The 23-year-old has often finished seasons stronger than he starts.
His first 10 games this year included a pair of 30-point outbursts against the Suns and Timberwolves, but Murray struggled on Denver’s latest road trip. He scored in single-digits (9) at the Knicks, and one night later, Murray needed 20 shots to score 20 points in a loss at the Nets — while appearing to nurse an injury.
The issue might have stemmed from an in-game collision Murray with Houston Rockets forward Jae’Sean Tate on Dec. 28. Murray slammed into the floor and clutched the back of his head. He missed Denver’s next matchup at the Sacramento Kings with a reported elbow contusion.
Murray’s play has been erratic ever since with solid, but unspectacular averages over his 10 games played of 19.7 points (47% shooting), 3.8 assists, 2 turnovers and 2.9 rebounds per game. It is imperative that Murray finds consistency if the Nuggets are to break out of their sub-.500 slump and establish themselves as legit NBA title contenders once again.
But it’s not all on Murray’s shoulders to improve.
“We need to find ways to help Jamal, to be more aggressive, more productive, and to go out there and give us that All-Star caliber player we know he’s capable of,” Malone said. “I’m definitely sure (Murray’s elbow) is bothering him. But I don’t think it’s anything he can’t play through, because he’s one of the tougher guys I’ve ever coached.”