The Nuggets had a disappointing return to Denver, losing an ugly game to the Magic. The Nuggets scored 27 points in the second half, turning a seven point lead at halftime into a discouraging 11 point loss.
Will Barton had 23 points on 23 field goal attempts off the bench for the Nuggets, but that was about the only highlight for the offense tonight.
"Our offense is on a milk carton, it's gone missing," Malone said after the game.
The Nuggets looked fatigued, with a five game, seven day road trip just wrapping up. With injuries, the Nuggets are playing bench players increased minutes, and it appears that their lack of conditioning is catching up to them. Gallinari was out on the floor for 38 minutes tonight, and looked gassed by the end of the game.
Malone brought up that due to injuries, Gallinari is playing more minutes than he is comfortable with. Wilson Chandler would have been able to help spell Gallinari, especially by carrying some more of the offensive responsibility, but he's out, and the Nuggets don't have help. Malone has been giving Will Barton more minutes, and he's responded well, but that means he can't have Barton helping give Gallinari rest during the game.
The Nuggets started off well enough, with Gallinari scoring 11 points in the first quarter. The Magic's reserves struggled, and the Nuggets played good defense, giving up 14 points in the second quarter to take a seven point lead at halftime.
The third quarter was when things took a turn for the worse. The offense came out flat, there wasn't any ball movement, players were jacking up bad shots, and not communicating on defense. They finished the quarter with five field goals and six turnovers - not a great ratio. Malone had to call two full timeouts in the first three minutes, and Mudiay was the casualty, earning a spot on the bench after the second timeout. Somehow things got worse in the fourth quarter, with four field goals and a ton of missed layups. The offense devolved into a series of turnovers and long mid-range shots, and that lazy play was the reason they lost the game.
The defense was solid in the first half, with the Nuggets making good rotations and rebounding, especially against a player like Nikola Vucevic. But the offensive struggles got into their head, and in the second half, that energy wasn't there on the defensive side. The home crowd couldn't inspire the players to get going, and the Magic were able to close out the game. The Nuggets nearly held the Magic without a 3-point field goal, with Evan Fournier knocking down a jumper with 2:38 remaining to give his team a five point lead. It was a dagger, and absolutely ended any chance at a rally.
The last time the Nuggets held an opponent to zero 3-pointers in a game was Nov. 21, 1992 at home against Minnesota according to Basketball Reference. I looked it up, and dang it, I wanted it to happen tonight. Thanks for nothing, Fournier.
There were some exciting plays in the game though, courtesy of some of the Nuggets energy guys. Barton deflected a pass in the second quarter, stealing the ball from Elfrid Payton. He gathered it near halfcourt, dribbled inside the arc, spun into the paint, and finished with a layup while drawing a foul.
Key Matchup: Magic bench vs. Nuggets bench
The Nuggets bench outperformed the Magic bench, but the Nuggets starters were so bad it didn't matter. Randy Foye finished with an impressive -18 in 17 minutes, but I still think he should be starting. Barton is invaluable off the bench, but that needs to be his role with the team. Let Foye continue to start for Gary Harris for the time being, and the team can address the guard depth in the offseason.
Thing to Watch: Emmanuel Mudiay
Mudiay was benched in crunch time again, which is starting to become a trend. He wasn't playing well, but Malone isn't allowing him to work through mistakes like he was earlier in the season. Elfrid Payton set a tone for the Magic defensively, denying Mudiay the ball after he gave it up and using his length to close passing windows.
Mudiay's previous career-low for minutes was 23 against the Clippers, a few weeks ago against the Los Angeles Clippers in a 17 point loss. Against the Magic, he finished with five turnovers and four assists, with two baskets on five attempts. It was a bad game, and there will be more in the future. It's discouraging that he didn't get an opportunity to play out of it though.
Mike Miller recently started working with Mudiay on his 3-point shooting, and the poor perimeter shooting may be getting in Mudiay's head. The NBA isn't a place where players have the luxury to sit back and over-analyze every decision. Hours of practice help make difficult decisions normal, and if you overthink things, you're dead.
Key Question: Will Fournier go off in his return to Denver?
Short answer? Nope. He struggled with foul trouble, but he did have the only 3-pointer for the Magic in the game, and it was a dagger in the fourth quarter, as previously mentioned. Again, thanks for nothing.
Box score courtesy of ESPN.