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Jamal Murray’s injury is brutal for the Nuggets and Canada

Canada’s Olympic basketball hopes took a big hit.

The men’s national team lost one of its best potential players Tuesday when it was confirmed that star guard Jamal Murray suffered a devastating knee injury last Monday.

Murray’s left knee buckled and bent awkwardly as he drove to the basket in the final minute of the Denver Nuggets’ 116-107 loss to Golden State. He immediately crumpled to the floor and was in significant pain before being helped off. The Nuggets revealed Tuesday that Murray was diagnosed with a torn ACL in his left knee and “will be out indefinitely.”

The typical recovery time for a basketball player with this injury is something like nine to 12 months. Murray is only 24 years old, which might help him come out on the quicker end. But, based on the cautious approach most NBA teams take toward their injured stars these days, there’s a possibility we don’t see him play until late next season.

Besides being a brutal blow to Murray, this is a massive loss for a surging Denver team that has climbed to fourth in the Western Conference and was eyeing another deep playoff run behind Murray and MVP-calibre big man Nikola Jokic.

Last year, Murray became the breakout star of the opening round by dropping 50, 42 and 50 points on Utah in consecutive matches.

He averaged 26.5 points and 6.6 assists for the playoffs as the Nuggets made a surprising trip to the conference final.

Despite being banged up this season Murray was averaging regular-season career highs in points (21.2) and assists (4.8) while making shots at a higher rate than ever before — particularly from three-point range.

Murray’s injury is also tough news for the Canadian men’s national team. It knocks him out for the last-chance, must-win Olympic qualifying tournament starting June 29 in Victoria. If you’re looking for a positive spin, that’s right around the time the NBA’s conference finals should be taking place, so there’s a chance Murray would have missed the qualifier anyway.

And Canada still has far more NBA talent than any other team in the tournament. With the exception of Greek two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who may not be available due to NBA playoff duty, there’s a dearth of recognizable players on Greece, China, Uruguay, Turkey and the Czech Republic.

But Murray’s absence obviously makes it harder for Canada to win the qualifier, and he’ll really be missed if Canada makes it to Tokyo. Its group-stage opponents in the Olympic tournament would be France, Iran and the United States.

The top two teams in each of the three groups advance to the quarter-finals, along with the two best third-place teams. A starting backcourt of Murray and Oklahoma City Thunder rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (23.7 points, 5.9 assists this season) would have given Canada a solid chance of reaching the knockout stage and even making a run at the podium.

Now Murray is lost, and Gilgeous-Alexander has been out for three weeks with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

There’s a chance the Thunder are being overly cautious with the injury because they’re nowhere near a playoff spot and they’re incentivized to keep their star out — losing more games down the stretch could improve their draft position.

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