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Recap: Nuggets vs Magic - Nugs finally find fourth (quarter) gear

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Denver watches another lead slip away, but turns the tables on their recent ways

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Hometown Denver Nuggets fans got a weekend game in before dinner, as the Nugs had an early east coast start today against the Orlando Magic. Some early curiosities were satisfied, as neither Emmanuel Mudiay or Kenneth Faried had played in the game prior, due to injury and strategy, respectively. Both saw early action, with Mudiay starting, and Faried playing 12 minutes of the first half.

The Nuggets came out in the first quarter with the same sort of offensive effort seen in the previous game against the Wizards. Passing was primarily solid, and guys were staying in motion to keep the offense active. Denver had a low (for them) six turnovers in the first half, those coming from a few moments of mental letdowns and sloppiness, three of them from Jusuf Nurkic, who was also flirting with a double-double by halftime.

Aside from spotting Faried (who had 12 first half points) and Mudiay, the highlight of the first half was a dozen points from a red-hot Juancho Hernangomez, who hit four of his five three-point attempts in the first half to have a career-high 12 by halftime. Another highlight was hearing the reaction of the Orlando crowd to Jameer Nelson’s entrance into the game. He’s still a fan favorite with the Magic.

The concern of the first half was watching a hot-shooting Nuggets team still be lax on the defensive side off-and-on during the game. The tough part of that equation is it demands the shooting stay hot into the second half. A 32-29 first quarter and 33-29 second quarter took the Nuggets into the half up 65-58

Coming into the second half, it seemed to one observer as if there’s a bit of a playbook starting to emerge for teams playing against the Nuggets. Orlando stepped up their efforts and slowly took the lead back from the Nuggets nearing the four-minute mark of quarter three. To their credit, Denver responded to the intensified play, and the teams traded leads in a physical end to the frame, with Orlando getting the better of the quarter. End of Q3, the Nuggets give up their lead and more as a 27-37 quarter leaves the Magic up 92-95.

Four minutes into the fourth quarter, Altitude’s Chris Marlowe relayed a sobering stat. The Nuggets have struggled of late when tailing going into the fourth, to the tune of losing 19 of those games in a row. Maybe a referendum on late-game fortitude, but Denver keeps fighting, and slowly gets back into the game, playing to a tie to the four minute mark, when Danilo Gallinari buries a beautiful three-pointer. The shot and lead change frustrated Serge Ibaka so badly, he shoved Gallo on the next play at the opposite end of the floor to give the Nuggets the ball.

Michael Malone takes that moment to pull Juancho and put Darrell Arthur back in the game, just in time for Darth to bury another trey and put the Nuggets up by six. Denver’s defense stayed consistent for the first time in some time, and the rewards showed. Denver got some stops on the far end of the floor, and were passing to find the open spots on the floor. With less than a minute to go, Denver was up by eight, and still the lead didn’t feel safe. An uncomfortable feeling to have as a fan. Orlando puts up a prayer of a three, and inbounding worries have you still sweating up by five points with 24 seconds left.

Happily, the Nuggets are able to inbound successfully a couple times, and make their free throws. Denver breaks the behind-after-the-third-quarter streak, and defeats the Orlando Magic 121-113 by holding Orlando to 18 fourth quarter points. A hard-fought win on the Nuggets part, especially coming off a few demoralizing losses on this trip. Hopefully Malone and the team take heart from their efforts today, it will be fascinating to see how the team takes this play into Dallas.

Studs of the game

Danilo Gallinari had 21 points, six boards and three assists to lead the Nuggets scorers. Kenneth Faried put up 19 points and 10 rebounds to record the only double-double of the night for the good guys. Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic were both pretty devastating to Orlando up the middle, with Nurk going off for 17 points and eight boards and Joker following closely with 14 points and six boards on a +22 plus/minus evening. Getting 31 points and 14 rebounds out of the center position greatly eases the burden on the rest of the squad. Juancho’s career-high 14 was also a great sight to see, and the team was going nuts over his hot first half play. Will Barton ended up with 16 points on the evening, including some very important free throws to keep the game out of reach at the end.

Stiffs of the game

Barton’s play salvaged the backcourt numbers as well, as Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray had four and two points, respectively. Those numbers on 23 and 22 minutes of play. To both of their credit, they limited turnovers to one apiece and did not do much harm in the game. Malone had nearly all of the kids on the bench to wrap it up.

The only other stiff of the game was Wilson Chandler’s stiff hip, which precluded him from playing tonight. Alarm bells go off every time I read “Wilson Chandler” and “hip” in the same sentence, unless it was a fashion magazine. Let’s hope Ill Will’s moment off the floor is only that.

Orlando fans are probably concerned in watching the Magic win four of five on their most recent road trip, only to see the team lose the three home games that have followed since.

What did you see out of the game that turned this one to the positive, Nuggets Nation? Wasn’t it nice to see a win?