It's never easy for the Denver Nuggets when they go to Orlando, but they built a 15-point lead and withstood a furious fourth quarter Jameer Nelson-led rally to defeat the Magic 120-112 on Wednesday night. Kenneth Faried continued his monster March and led the team in scoring with 26 points while collecting nine rebounds.
This game was more of a group effort, however. Three (!) Nuggets scored over 20 (Faried, Wilson Chandler with 21, and J.J. Hickson with 20 off the bench) and Ty Lawson chipped in 17 points with 12 assists. Darrell Arthur also played his best game in a while, scoring 14 points on 5-6 shooting, including two three-pointers.
It didn't start out quite the way the Nuggets planned. They were down 27-23 after one quarter and the lead got all the way up to 13 in the second. But the Nuggets started playing tenacious defense and kept whittling the lead down. A three-pointer from Chandler tied the game, and then Lawson hit a jump shot while being fouled by Nelson to give the Nuggets a one-point lead. In all fairness, it was a pretty questionable call on Nelson. Lawson then stole the inbounds pass and dished to Faried, who was fouled and knocked down one free throw to put the Nuggets up 52-50 at halftime.
Denver ended the second quarter on a 25-10 run, playing some stringent defense without fouling. They only had six fouls at halftime, a remarkable number for a team that leads the league in personal fouls. The only Magic player to really do any damage in the first half was forward Nikola Vucevic, who had 16 points and seven rebounds.
It was refreshing to see the Nuggets come out and continue to play hard in the third quarter, which is usually their time to wilt. Nelson gave the Magic the lead briefly with a three-pointer, but Lawson answered right back with one of his own and the Magic never led again. Faried had 11 points in the third quarter, including a nifty coast-to-coast drive where he blew by rookie Victor Oladipo and laid it in with the left hand. Chandler (who had nine points of his own in the quarter) had a four-point play that pushed the lead to eight, and the Nuggets would eventually end the quarter with a 85-74 lead.
The strong defense faded a bit in the fourth quarter, but some of that was Nelson hitting tough shots. Aaron Brooks and Hickson were dominant in the final period, so much so that Lawson was able to rest until the lead was cut to eight with about three minutes to play. After a long three from Nelson cut the lead to five, Brooks answered right back with a three of his own. Arron Afflalo knocked down a couple of free throws to cut the lead to five again late, but a sweet drive and dish from Lawson to Brooks made the lead insurmountable, and the Nuggets coasted to victory after some obligatory free throws.
Overall, this was a solid, balanced win for the Nuggets. Players hit shots when they needed to, the defense was much better (at least in the second and third quarter), they cut down on the fouls and turnovers, and it was a well-rounded effort that featured great play from the starters and the bench. Can they duplicate it on Friday against Miami? Knowing the Nuggets penchant for getting up for the upper echelon teams, I wouldn't be surprised.
Game Observations -
- After tonight's victory, the Nuggets are now 5-21 all-time in Orlando. Yikes.
- The Nuggets had nine turnovers in the first half, but only five in the second.
- Denver dominated inside, as they won the rebounding battle 52-38 and had 12 offensive rebounds to only seven for the Magic. They also had 54 points in the paint compared to 40 for Orlando. Chandler actually led the Nuggets in rebounding with 10.
- The Magic were 13-13 from the free throw line while Denver was only 16-24. Can't win 'em all.
- Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw said he was going to give the reserves more minutes. He held true to his word, as Arthur, Evan Fournier, and Quincy Miller saw significant time tonight, along with Brooks and Hickson. Arthur played very well, and Miller looked decent. Fournier's shot wasn't falling but he was active. Brooks had nine points and seven assists in 20 minutes and hit some very timely shots.
- Afflalo led the way with 24 points for Orlando on 10-18 shooting. I really wish he was still rocking the powder blue.
- Vucevic played well for the Magic, notching a double-double with 20 points and 16 rebounds. Oladipo looked okay, but he is still most definitely a rookie and looked like it sometimes, especially when Faried drove right around him in the third quarter. That was some atrocious defense.
- Two Nuggets starters that didn't contribute a whole lot were Randy Foye and Timofey Mozgov. They combined for five points on 2-8 shooting. Yet somehow Foye was tied with Lawson for the best +/- on the team, at +14.