Murray, 24, was driving hard to the hoop when he fell to the court before he could attempt a layup between two defenders. The fifth-year pro clutched his left knee and pounded the court in pain. He departed for the locker room with help from a Nuggets staffer after refusing a wheelchair.
Murray finished with 17 points, four rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes.
Murray had missed Denver’s previous four games with right knee soreness.
“Just an awful feeling,” Nuggets Coach Michael Malone said after the game. “Keep Jamal in your thoughts and prayers.”
After emerging as a star during Denver’s run to the 2020 Western Conference finals in the Disney World bubble, Murray has averaged 21.2 points, 4 rebounds and 4.8 assists this season. A skilled scorer and ballhandler, Murray is Denver’s second-leading scorer and is a 40.8 percent three-point shooter.
Murray’s injury could have serious repercussions for the Nuggets, who exited the all-star break as one of the league’s hottest teams. Denver won its next seven games after acquiring forward Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline, and its new-look starting lineup, built around MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, looked poised for a deep postseason run.
During Murray’s recent absence, Malone elected to start Facundo Campazzo, a 30-year-old rookie from Argentina, and to bring Monte Morris off the bench. Jokic will remain Denver’s primary ballhandler, but Campazzo’s limited scoring ability will require Gordon and second-year forward Michael Porter Jr. to pick up more of the scoring load.
It will be difficult for the Nuggets to sustain their momentum without Murray, who had four 40-point games and two 50-point games in last year’s playoffs while making big shots in series victories against the Utah Jazz in the first round and the Los Angeles Clippers in the second. Murray’s self-assured style and natural fit with Jokic remain core strengths for the Nuggets’ top-five offense.
“I know every night what I’m getting from Jamal,” Malone said during Murray’s bubble run in September. “Last year, we knew what we were getting from Nikola, but what kind of game would Jamal have? That’s no longer the case. We have two superstars in Nikola and Jamal and a lot of young, talented players behind them. The difference from last year to this year is just that consistency [and] the confidence that we all have in Jamal.”
The Nuggets went 8-6 last season without Murray, and they are 3-3 this season when he has been sidelined. Denver (34-20) is the West’s No. 4 seed, holding a one-game lead over the Los Angeles Lakers with roughly five weeks to go. Murray’s injury could flip which team gets home-court advantage in a possible first-round matchup between the Nuggets and Lakers, who are waiting for LeBron James and Anthony Davis to return from injuries.
With a 2½-game cushion over the Portland Trail Blazers and a 4½-game lead over the Dallas Mavericks, the Nuggets would need to endure an extended losing streak to slip further in the playoff seeding. Even without Murray, Denver is at minimal risk of slipping into the West’s play-in tournament, which will feature the seventh to 10th seeds.