SAN FRANCISCO — Injured Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. remains hopeful he can play in his team’s first-round series against the Golden State Warriors.
“Right now I’m taking it game by game. I’m not ruling anything out,” Porter told ESPN’s Andscape after the Nuggets’ 123-101 loss to the Warriors in Game 1 on Saturday night. “It’s something I never want to deal with again, so I’m just taking my time. … I’m playing game by game. Every morning I wake up and I know I feel good. Every day, I am getting closer.”
Porter underwent lumbar spine surgery on Dec. 1 to treat a lower back injury. It was his third back surgery since November 2017, when he played for the University of Missouri. The 6-foot-10, 218-pound player has seemed physically embarrassed this season after averaging 9.9 points and 6.6 rebounds before being sidelined. He last played for the Nuggets on Nov. 6 against the Houston Rockets.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on February 27 that Porter was set to return to the lineup in March. But Porter told Andscape those hopes had changed after suffering a rehabilitation setback a month ago.
“I felt pretty good. I felt ready to go. I was ready to go back. I just hurt a little bit so I realized about a month ago that I was good, but I was forcing myself too hard to come back,” he said. “I can do anything. I have no restrictions. But when I started playing full speed again and doing everything, that’s when it hurt a bit. So, I just decided that if I felt perfect, I would come. If not, I’ll take my time.
When asked how her body feels now, Porter said, “I feel close to [perfect].”
The Nuggets opened their playoff series against Golden State without Porter, 2019 All-Star guard Jamal Murray and reserve guard Facundo Campazzo. Murray hasn’t played since tearing an ACL in his left knee during the playoffs last season. Campazzo served a one-game suspension in Game 1 for shoving Los Angeles Lakers guard Wayne Ellington a week ago. The Nuggets have not ruled out the return of Porter and Murray. Game 2 between the Nuggets and Warriors is Monday night.
Porter only played three games at Missouri during the 2017-18 season due to back issues. ESPN’s No. 1-ranked prep player in the Class of 2017 went from a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft to the Nuggets’ 14th selection and missed his entire rookie season after back surgery .
He lived up to his potential in the 2020-21 season, averaging 19 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 3-pointers per game, and the Nuggets rewarded him with five overtime. years worth at least $173 million that starts next season. Injuries limited him to 125 regular season games over four seasons.
“I love basketball and I’m doing everything for rehabilitation,” he said. “I’d rather put it all on the pitch than rehab, but it’s there. It’s a good chance to grow. Some days I can look at the positive. Some days I’m stuck in the negative. But I try stay positive rather than negative.
“People have counted me out before. I will come back and improve. It’s just a matter of time. People are caught in the here and now. But it’s not the last of me. I I’ve been through this. I feel good. I’ll be back better than ever. I have no doubts in my mind.
Porter described the challenge of coming back from his back injury as “more mental than physical” and was grateful for his athletic trainers while in rehab. He also credited his Christian faith for helping him through the tough days.
“Through all of my trials, through all of my adversity, I always come back to the bigger picture,” he said. “I go through things for a reason. I really try to learn from it. … I know that in my eyes God always has a plan for me, so I try not to give in. When you go through wounds, when you work that hard, you realize that as hard as you work, a lot of things are left in God’s hands.”