SAN FRANCISCO – Denver Nuggets’ injured Michael Porter Jr. is hoping to be able to play in his team’s first round against the Golden State Warriors.
“Right now, I’m taking the game apart. I’m not ruling anything out,” Porter told ESPN’s Andscape after the Nuggets lost 123-101 to the Warriors in their first game on Saturday night. “This is something I don’t want to deal with again, so I’m just taking my time….every day I get closer.”
Porter underwent surgery on the lumbar spine on December 1 to treat a lower back injury. This was his third back surgery since November 2017, when he played for the University of Missouri. The 6-foot-10, 218-pounder has looked physically disabled this season after averaging 9.9 points and 6.6 rebounds before being sidelined. He last played for the Nuggets on November 6 against the Houston Rockets.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on February 27 that Porter is scheduled to return to the squad sometime in March. But Porter told Landscape those hopes have changed after he suffered a setback in his rehab a month ago.
“I was feeling pretty good. I was ready to go. I was ready to turn back. I was in some pain, so I realized about a month ago that I was fine, but I was pushing myself hard to come back,” he said. “I can do anything. I have no limitations. But when I got back to playing at full speed and doing everything, that was when I got some pain. So, I decided that if I felt perfect, I’d turn up and if not, I’d take my time.”
When asked how his body feels now, Porter said, “I feel close to him [perfect]. “
The Nuggets opened the playoff series against Golden State without Porter, 2019 All-Star goalkeeper Jamal Murray and reserve guard Facundo Campazzo. Murray has not played since rupturing the ACL in his left knee in the playoffs last season. Campazzo worked a one-game suspension during Game One after slashing Los Angeles Lakers guard Wayne Ellington a week earlier. The Nuggets did not rule out the return of Porter and Murray. Match 2 between the Nuggets and the Warriors on Monday night.
Porter played only three games in Missouri during the 2017-18 season due to back problems. ESPN’s No. 1 prep player in the 2017 class went from being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft to the 14th pick 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 three-pointers per game, and the Nuggets rewarded him with a five-year extension worth at least $173 million starting next season. Injuries limited him to 125 regular-season games over four seasons.
“I love basketball and I’m putting everything I have into rehab,” he said. “I’d rather put everything I have on the field than rehab, but it’s there. It’s a good opportunity to grow. Some days I can look on the positive. Some days I’m stuck in the negative. But I try to stay positive, not negative.”
“People have come back to me before. I will come back better. It is only a matter of time. People are trapped in the here and now. But this is not the last of me. I have been through this. I feel good. I will come back better than ever. I have no doubt in my mind.”
Porter described the challenge of coming back from his back injury as “more mental than physical” and was grateful to his athletic trainers during his rehabilitation. He also credited his Christian faith with helping him get through difficult days.
“Through all my experiences, through all my ordeals, I always come back to the bigger picture,” he said. “I do things for a reason. I try to really learn from that. … I know in my eyes that God always has a plan for me, so I try not to give up. When you get injured, when you work so hard, you realize that while you work so hard, so many things are left behind. in God’s hand.”