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Nuggets' Murray starts Game 5 vs. Lakers despite strained left calf

Jamal Murray Denver Nuggets Jamal Murray - The Canadian Press

DENVER (AP) — Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray started Game 5 of the defending NBA champions’ playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night despite a strained left calf.

Murray warmed up with an ice pack wrapped around his calf, which he hurt Saturday night, and Denver’s medical staff determined he was at low risk of aggravating the injury by playing in Game 5.

The Nuggets were up 3-1 in the series and trying to close out the Lakers, whom they swept in the Western Conference finals last year on their way to winning the franchise’s first NBA title.

The Lakers were trying to become the first team ever to bounce back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series to advance.

Murray was injured in the second half of the Nuggets’ Game 4 loss at Los Angeles that snapped Denver’s 11-game winning streak against LeBron James and the Lakers.

He didn’t leave the game but was listed as questionable on the team’s injury report Sunday.

About 90 minutes before tip-off, Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Murray’s playing status depended on how he felt during warmups.

“It just comes down to being responsible,” Malone said. “Are we a better team with Jamal Murray? Of course we are. Does he give us a better chance to win? Of course he does. He’s one of the better playoff players that I’ve ever been around.

“But sometimes I have to be the adult in the room and, if need be, the voice of reason and take a bigger picture approach,” Malone added.

The winner of this series advances to play the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are coming off their first series win in 20 years. They completed the franchise’s first-ever sweep with a 122-116 win at Phoenix on Sunday.

Murray has struggled with his jump shot during the series despite hitting the winning buzzer-beater in Game 2, the first such shot in Nuggets playoff history.

Murray entered Monday night having shot 38% from the field and 21% from beyond the arc in the playoff series against the Lakers after shooting 48.1% overall and 42.5% on 3-pointers during the regular season, which were both career bests.

“I mean, he’s tough, man,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Even though he may not have a good shooting night, he makes the key plays and he makes timely plays. So he’s tough. You can throw the numbers out the window. When he’s on the floor, he’s a threat. He’s more than capable of putting his team on his back and getting them where they need to get to.”

Murray missed 23 games this season while dealing with hamstring, knee, ankle and shin ailments, including seven straight down the stretch.