Nuggets coach Michael Malone knows times are tough for Porter Jr.

Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Getting ready for the NBA Playoffs, both physically and mentally, as a member of the defending champion Denver Nuggets with everyone trying to dethrone them, is a tall task on its own.

It’s even tougher for Michael Porter Jr. when you consider the circumstances currently swirling around his family.

On Wednesday, his younger brother Jontay Porter was issued a lifetime ban from the NBA for violating the league’s gaming rules while playing for the Toronto Raptors this season. After an investigation by the NBA, Jontay was found to have placed at least 13 bets on NBA games, along with limiting his own participation to influence the outcome of one or more Raptors games.

Jontay, like his older brother, dealt with a host of injuries throughout his college days and early professional career, and it was Michael who convinced him not to quit and continue his pursuit of an NBA opportunity. Jontay was on his way to potentially earning a standard contract with the Raptors after a solid stint with the club as their backup centre, but instead, his opportunity is gone for good.

If that wasn’t trying enough, Coban Porter, Michael’s other younger brother, was sentenced to six years in prison on Friday for his part in a car crash while driving under the influence that resulted in the death of a woman in 2023.

That is a lot to process for anyone, let alone a player having to go out and perform in the first round of the playoffs, and Nuggets head coach Michael Malone is well aware of that reality.

“I mean, he’s definitely been through a lot,” said Malone on Saturday before the Nuggets took on the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of their first-round series, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN. “The kid’s a warrior. I have so much respect for everything Michael and his entire family have gone through. He knows he has the entire support of this organization.”

Porter Jr., 25, has turned into a staple of the Nuggets lineup after an injury-riddled first three seasons. He was a key contributor during the squad’s title run last year and played in 81 games during this regular season, averaging 16.7 points and seven rebounds on 48.4/39.7/83.6 per cent shooting splits from the field, distance, and charity stripe.

He’ll be a core piece as the Nuggets take on the Lakers in a rematch of the Western Conference finals. Last time Denver won in a 4-0 sweep en route to the NBA Finals, this time they’re are a two-seed for the first-round matchup. Similar to last season, the Lakers earned their way into the playoffs by way of the Play-In, beating the New Orleans Pelicans in the 7-vs-8 matchup.

Malone hopes that getting onto a basketball court could be what Porter Jr. needs to help process the circumstances surrounding his family.

“We’ll keep an eye on him but I expect Michael to go out there in his safe place on the court,” Malone said. “Get away from all that and just get back to playing thee game he loves.”

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