DENVER – Michael Porter Jr. peddled lightly on a stationary bike in the corner of Ball Arena after practice Monday, quietly talking with ESPN Radio ahead of the start of the NBA season tomorrow.
The next thing anyone heard … thud. The Denver Nuggets’ $180 million small forward tripped getting off the bike and onto a small set of risers, where he was to do an interview with the large corps of media assembled the day before the Nuggets host the Los Angeles Lakers, and get those championship rings.
This was not the symbolism, nor the noise, the Nuggets needed on the eve of their title defense. “Just tripped,” Porter explained. “I’m fine.”
Porter, who missed the entire preseason with a sprained left ankle, intends to play Tuesday and is expected to start against the Lakers on opening night. The game starts at 5:30 p.m. locally (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT), and will be preceded by a traditional ceremony of the players getting their rings and watching the 2023 NBA championship banner unveiled in the rafters.
The Golden State Warriors host the Phoenix Suns in the second game of TNT’s opening-night doubleheader.
“I wouldn’t miss tomorrow for anything,” Porter said. “We’re excited. It’s going to be pretty surreal. Tomorrow is going to be a weird game day in general. I think it’s a 5:30 tip, putting in the ceremonial stuff beforehand, but it’s going to be really cool. I think it’ll make the (reality of winning the finals) set in and kind of like bring everything to completion, and then we can just focus on this next season.”
Porter, who has battled serious injuries throughout his career and averaged 17.4 points last season, suffered the injury during training camp and was in a walking boot. He said “I sprained it pretty good … landed on a guy’s foot and they said it was a grade 3 ankle sprain. So, it will be sore for a while, but I’ve got great trainers and I’ve been doing treatment all day, every day.”
The Nuggets missed Porter and reserve guard Christian Braun (calf) for the entire preseason, but both are expected to be out there against the Lakers.
“I think every time Michael shoots the ball, we all expect it to go in — he’s that pure of a shooter,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “And I think coming back from an ankle injury, I think the ankle injury is still bothering him a little bit, but I haven’t noticed him limping out here. I haven’t noticed him not being able to move, but it’s kind of finding that rhythm. He and Christian haven’t played in a while, and that’s probably the worst part about our preseason was we got a chance to look at a lot of other guys, but not to have two of our top six players getting minutes and getting them playing with their teammates is obviously less than ideal.”
The Nuggets steamrolled over the Lakers in the Western Conference finals and then beat the Miami Heat in five games in the finals to win the franchise’s first NBA championship. They lost two key bench players off of that team in Bruce Brown and Jeff Green, but return a starting five (which includes two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray) that was easily the best in the NBA statistically.
With Porter and Braun out, the Nuggets got an extended look at sharpshooting rookie Julian Strawther, who impressed with 17.8 points per game in four preseason contests.
The Nuggets were also without Malone for a portion of the preseason, as he left to grieve for his father Brendan, a longtime NBA coach who passed away earlier this month. Brendan Malone won two titles as an assistant coach with the Detroit Pistons, and his son is set to receive his first championship ring.
“The other night after the Clipper (preseason) game, that’s the first time since I can’t remember when (that) I didn’t get a phone call or a text from my father,” Malone said. “That hit me. That was hard. But he’s with me every step of the way. And so tomorrow night when we celebrate, we raise our banner, that’s gonna be a great moment for our fans, first and foremost, for the franchise. But I know my father will be here (Tuesday). He bought tickets on StubHub, he got them. He’ll be here.”
(Photo of Michael Porter Jr.: Bart Young / Getty Images)