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Preview: Nuggets take on Orlando Magic in possible trap game

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The Nuggets won a hard-fought game in Minnesota on Wednesday. Can they regain their magic against Orlando tonight?

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After a much needed win against the Minnesota Timberwolves and much needed break (albeit short) with Thanksgiving holiday being yesterday, the Denver Nuggets will take on the Orlando Magic tonight. With a 9-9 record and on a 7-3 streak during their last ten games, the Magic are simply playing like a better version of last season’s group. Nikola Vucevic has taken his game to a new level as a scorer at the center position, and his spacing has made things easier for those around him. With a 42.2 percent mark from behind the arc and a 61.4 True Shooting percentage, this is the most efficient season of Vucevic’s career and a tough cover for Denver’s own Nikola, Mr. Jokic.

But the center battle will be far from the only intriguing matchup in this contest. Paul Millsap and Aaron Gordon face off as two players of the same archetype with two different levels of athleticism. Gordon, though he has lost some in recent years, operates like a spring board rather than a human. Millsap is ground bound by comparison, but that didn’t stop him from carrying the Nuggets in Wednesday’s win, scoring 25 points on 11/13 from the field to go with five assists and five steals.

These two teams are in for an interesting battle on Friday night. Denver will once again don their statement jerseys in an ode to the Mile High City. The Nuggets lost to Caris LeVert and the Brooklyn Nets on a buzzer-beater during their first time wearing them, so here’s to a better result this time around.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (11-7) vs Orlando Magic (9-9)

When: 7:00 PM MT

Where: Pepsi Center • Denver, CO

How to watch: Altitude, NBA League Pass

Rival Blog: Orlando Pinstriped Post

Injury Report: Same as it has been for weeks

Three Things to watch for:

Can the Nuggets get to the free throw line?

During the most recent three-game road trip, the Nuggets went 1-2, and much of the reason was consistently losing the battle at the free throw line. Here are Denver’s total attempts at the free throw line in each of the three games:

  • 13, 9, 6 = 28 total attempts for Denver

Now, here are Denver’s opponents in each of the same games:

  • 34, 22, 26 = 82 total attempts for opponents

In all three, that’s a potential 54-point discrepancy, averaging 18 points per game lost at the free throw line. That just isn’t going to fly. One player to shoulder the blame in particular is Nikola Jokic. Jokic attempted double digit free throws in each of the first three games and has only attempted more than 6 just once since then. If the Nuggets are going to stay in games when the shooting is poor, it has to come from excellent defense and winning the battle at the free throw line.

Will Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, and Jamal Murray ever be efficient in the same game?

So far, the Nuggets have had three games during the season in which all three of Jokic, Harris, and Murray have been as efficient or better than 45 percent from the field at the same time. These three occurrences were against Phoenix, Sacramento, and the LA Lakers, all within the first five games of the year.

Since then, Denver’s core three contributors have failed to shoot efficiently at the same time. For stretches, neither Harris nor Murray could shoot straight. Lately, Jokic has been the culprit. The blame goes to everyone, but the fact remains, Denver is at their best when their core three are playing in sync, shooting efficiently, and making things easier for their teammates. They have a great opportunity to get back on track, matched up against poor defenders in D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, and Nikola Vucevic.

Do not underestimate the Orlando Magic

Many may question my willingness to place D.J. Augustin and Jamal Murray or Nikola Vucevic and Nikola Jokic in a tie in their respective match-ups, but the facts are these:

Augustin is shooting 51.4 percent from beyond the three-point line and averaging better than a 5:1 assist to turnover ratio over his last ten games. The Nuggets have a point guard like that, but his name is Monte Morris, who is coming off the bench. Vucevic is averaging 20.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game on 55/42/82 shooting splits. If it weren’t for Nikola Jokic’s improved defense, we might be asking if he’s even the best player named Nikola in the NBA right now.

Do not take the Orlando Magic lightly. If you do, they will burn you. At 7-3 over their last ten with the 5th highest Net Rating in the NBA, there’s no reason why they can’t win tonight. Don’t give them an opportunity by coming into the matchup expecting an easy win .