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Injuries affect Nuggets-Suns Christmas Day matchup

Dec 23, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward Drew Eubanks (24) elbows Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second half at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Last year the Denver Nuggets had the reigning MVP but were left off the NBA’s Christmas Day schedule, which some viewed as a snub.

Nikola Jokic winning the MVP for a second straight year was too much for the NBA to ignore, so Denver is anchoring the daylong slate of Sunday games. The Nuggets will host the Phoenix Suns in the late matchup, but they won’t have their full complement of players.

Forward Jeff Green suffered a sprained left finger and a hand fracture in Friday’s game and will miss at least four weeks, so he will not be on the primetime Christmas showdown.

“I love a TV game. Don’t ever turn it down but I don’t worry too much about it,” Jamal Murray said. “Either I’m playing on Christmas or I’m spending a day with the family.”

Denver enters Sunday on a three-game winning streak and tied with Memphis for first place in the Western Conference. The Nuggets beat the Grizzlies on Tuesday without Murray, who was resting his sore left knee, and Michael Porter Jr.

Porter missed 13 games with a left heel strain but returned Friday night against Portland. He scored 18 points in 27 minutes.

“It felt really good to be out there,” Porter said. “I’m excited to be back.”

Murray had a season-high 12 assists to go with 25 points in the win and looked reinvigorated after not playing since Sunday when he scored just six points and missed all six of his 3-point attempts. He knows he will have bad games after missing last season due to an ACL tear.

“I’ve accepted it,” Murray said. “It’s (the media) that hasn’t accepted it because every time I have a bad game, ‘Oh, my goodness. Oh, he’s not shooting well.’ I know I’m going to have those days.”

Phoenix was blown out at home by the Grizzlies on Friday night, its third straight game without Devin Booker due to groin soreness. Even without Booker, coach Monty Williams felt the team needed to be more aggressive from the opening tip.

“We got to get back chasing something and right now I feel like the prey,” Williams said. “I don’t like that feeling. I told our guys the same thing. We got to get our edge back right from the jump.”

Sunday will be the first of four games between the teams this season. The Suns have finished atop the Western Conference the previous two seasons and used that No. 1 seed to reach the NBA Finals in 2021.

Phoenix went through the Nuggets in the second round of the 2021 playoffs but that was without Murray, who had torn his left ACL a month earlier. Last season Porter played just nine games so it was left to Jokic to carry the load.

Booker leads the Suns in scoring (28.0) and assists (5.8) per game. He missed two games with hamstring tightness, returned for two and then has missed the last three. He scored a season-high 58 points against New Orleans on Dec. 17.

Williams acknowledged recently that he has played Booker “way too many minutes. I can’t look at anybody else when I put players in harm’s way.”

–Field Level Media