On Tuesday morning, the Denver Nuggets got together for their last practice in Colorado before the games matter. Denver will travel to Salt Lake City today for the season opener against the Utah Jazz tomorrow night. All eyes will be on the returns of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.; the two key stars haven’t played a regular season (or playoff) game since April 12th, 2021 for Murray and November 9th, 2021 for Porter. 555 days gone for Murray. 343 days for Porter.

Murray spoke to local media on Tuesday and offered a window into his perspective, smiling throughout the process and continuing to note how excited he is to just be on the court again.

“Ready to go,” Murray declared. “Excited to play. Ready to be out there.”

For Murray, the journey back has been arduous, painful, frustrating. 555 days is a long time, and though he sees this as the next big step in the process, he knows that journey doesn’t stop here.

“I reflect on that shit every day. Still going. It’s an ongoing process,” Murray shared. “Just glad to be back…doing what I do.”

Murray sat out the final three preseason games with left hamstring tightness, a soft tissue injury he aggravated earlier in the month. The Nuggets were understandably cautious, with Michael Malone previously noting that the team has to take the long term approach this year. They can’t get caught up in the moment, and neither will Murray.

“I didn’t want to risk anything. I’ve been out for long enough, so that’s why I just wanted to make sure I feel good for tomorrow.”

Murray is unlikely to play heavy minutes out of the gate. Malone shared during previous practices that Murray will ramp up to 30+ minutes later in the season but that he likely won’t start there. Whether that means 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 25 minutes, or somewhere in between is still to be determined. As with Porter, the Nuggets will confer with Murray, get a good picture of where he stands physically and mentally, and go from there. The more games he plays and the more rust he shakes off, the more minutes he will play and fewer games he will miss.

As for the expectations of how he plays upon his return, Murray isn’t as interested in that aspect of his recovery.

“Like I said, I’m just excited to be out there and figuring it out,” Murray expressed. “Having something to figure out, going home and watching film, whether I miss 10 shots or not. Just having work to do, you know?”

Jokić certainly isn’t holding his long time running mate to a high standard either.

“I love to play with him of court,” Jokić shared on Tuesday. “I know he’s going to be really bad for the first 20 games, but we’re going to survive. He will need to get in a rhythm. He will be inconsistent, but hopefully, he’s going to be old Jamal. He’s going to be back on track to how he played before the injury.”

Though the Nuggets would like to get out to a good start, there are several reasons why that might be difficult. New faces. Returns from long term injury. Long term goals rather than short term sprints. This team will be good, but how good how fast still remains unclear.

With regard to the Utah Jazz, Jokić knows how difficult it can be to play in Salt Lake City.

“[We need] to have the right mentality, to have the right focus for it,” Jokić shared. “It’s a tough crowd, a tough arena to play there. They changed a little bit of their team, but the energy that that arena has, that that team always has…hopefully we can sustain that [mentality].”

Since Jokić and Malone both arrived in the 2015-16 season, the Nuggets have a 1-11 in Salt Lake City. It’s their worst record in any arena during that stretch. To say the Nuggets have struggled historically would be an understatement.

Of course, that was mostly with Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Those two stars have been moved this offseason. It shouldn’t change Denver’s outlook though.

“Different team, but they play really hard, give a lot of effort,” shared Murray. “They’re going to play hard. They’re going to make a lot of shots. They’ve got a lot of guys that are underestimated.”

With new faces such as Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley, the Jazz have enough capable veterans on their roster to make things challenging for Denver. Though their center depth is mostly unsettled, they still have Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson in the backcourt. There’s talent here, and if the Nuggets don’t bring the proper intensity and focus, they could easily walk out of Vivint Arena in disappointing fashion.

As Murray and Porter work their way back, it may be difficult to accept wins and losses as Denver’s only measure of success or failure. Seeing both of those stars back on the court will be enough to sustain many for awhile. It might not sustain Malone and the Nuggets, but given Denver’s long term goals, the Nuggets coaching staff would certainly stomach a few extra losses in October and November. If it meant Murray and Porter were back and better than ever by February, March, and April, that will be what matters most.

Still, the Nuggets expect to win every night. They have a chance to win every night with Jokić on the floor, and no matter how Murray or Porter are playing at that particular time, there’s enough around them to bolster some up and down performances for awhile.

Hopefully, the Nuggets can use that depth, veteran savvy, and unselfish style to get off to a good start on Wednesday night.