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Canada's Murray trying to get healthy as Nuggets defend first-ever NBA title

Jamal Murray and OG Anunoby Jamal Murray and OG Anunoby - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Canada's Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets are getting used to being the hunted and not the hunters after winning their first-ever NBA championship.

Murray led the Nuggets into Toronto on Wednesday night for his first game in Canada since Denver dispatched the Miami Heat in five games last season. He said that it was a completely different feeling being the defending champion rather than searching for a title.

"It's been more preparation for each game," Murray said after scoring 20 points with six assists and four rebounds in Denver's 113-104 victory over the Raptors. "Last year we were coming in with something to prove, night in and night out.

"It's a little different when you're trying to defend it. You constantly have that pressure of somebody hunting you and each team does something different really good."

Murray, who is from Kitchener, Ont., about 100 kilometres west of Toronto, received a lengthy ovation from the sold-out crowd of 19,800 at Scotiabank Arena as the Raptors played a video on the building's Jumbotron honouring him and his accomplishments on the court.

"I appreciate Toronto for having me on the screen and all that, just little stuff like that means a lot," said Murray. "Obviously, it's good to come here and try to put on a show in front of my friends and family.

"It's a blessing to be in this position."

Murray came into the game against the Raptors averaging 18.3 points, 5.7 assists, and 3.2 rebounds over 14 games, only a slight drop-off from the 2022-23 campaign.

He averaged 20 points, 6.2 assists, four rebounds, and a steal over 65 games last season and was instrumental in the Nuggets winning their first-ever NBA title.

Part of his slower production this season is because he's missed half of Denver's (19-10) games due to injury.

"He's finding his rhythm and when he first came back from the injury, he's got a minute restriction. That's frustrating," said Nuggets head coach Michael Malone. "He really can't find a rhythm when he being told, just when you get loose, you've got to come out.

"Now as he's getting away from that restriction, I think he's finding his rhythm."

Murray joked "which injury?" when asked about his recovery process. He's missed time this season after a series of injuries that includes issues with his quadriceps, a hamstring, and then his ankles.

"I'm still trying to get there," said Murray. "Obviously, I've been in and out of the lineup, just trying to get my body right. I've been on a minute restriction for a while now.

"I'm just trying to build my way up and stay healthy for the remainder of the season. It's been a rocky beginning but I think we're on the right track."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2023.