The Denver Nuggets were considered a serious title contender as recently as last week.
The Nuggets had won eight in a row and even acquired Aaron Gordon, so it looked like their future was bright.
Things have changed dramatically for the Nuggets, who have lost their past two games and sit in the fourth spot in the Western Conference. More importantly, they also lost Jamal Murray to a torn ACL in his left knee.
Murray, 24, suffered the injury with less than a minute remaining in Denver's 116-107 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday. His knee buckled as he drove toward the basket, and he fell to the court, immediately clutching at his left knee and then pounding the court in pain.
That is the backdrop for the Nuggets when they host the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.
"Everybody knows Jamal is a huge, huge piece to this team alongside Nikola (Jokic)," Denver backup point guard Monte Morris said. "Just his leadership out there. He does everything. Seeing him go down like that, it's never nothing that you can even think was going to happen. He lifts so much. His body's strong. It's a touchy subject. I don't even like really speaking about injuries."
Murray averaged 21.2 points a game and was half of an effective pick-and-roll combination with Jokic. It's expected that Facundo Campazzo will see an even bigger role, and there is a possibility the Nuggets will sign another guard to the roster.
Denver will lean even more about Jokic, a strong MVP candidate, as well as Michael Porter Jr. and Gordon. Murray had missed four games before returning Monday night, and the Nuggets won three of those, so facing Miami without him won't be a new experience.
"He just came back," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said following Monday's loss. "He was gone for four days. His knee's been bothering him. He took those four games to try to get right. First game back, obviously. It's just an awful feeling."
The Heat have struggled to find the consistency that spurred them to the NBA Finals last fall. Miami has dealt with injuries all season, with its top players missing multiple games. Leading scorer Jimmy Butler has been sidelined for 15 games this season, and Goran Dragic has missed 19 for various reasons.
Dragic had 12 points in 28 minutes off the bench in Miami's 106-86 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night. It's possible Dragic will sit out the second night of the back-to-back set.
"We'll see," Dragic said before Tuesday night's game regarding his status for Wednesday. "We still need to discuss that, so I don't know. I'm going to be available if he needs me. But I don't know yet."
The Heat had won six of their previous seven before getting soundly defeated by the Suns. Miami is in the midst of playing eight games in 14 days, with Wednesday serving as one of two back-to-back sets during that stretch.
Denver won the first meeting between the teams this season, 109-82, in Miami on Jan. 27.
--Field Level Media
FROM THE ARCHIVES