The Nuggets were able to get their short Eastern Conference road trip off on the right foot with a 110-99 win over the Magic on Tuesday night.
Nikola Jokic bested his friend Nikola Vucevic, putting up 28 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists in another outstanding performance on both ends of the court. Jamal Murray was second on the team in points with 21, but it took him 21 attempts to reach that mark on a night where the team sputtered at times in the second half.
Evan Fournier nearly reached a new career high, and finished with 31 points and six assists, abusing the Nuggets transition defense and helping nearly lead the Magic back from a 21-point halftime deficit.
The Magic started the game with the first two baskets, getting layups inside while Will Barton missed a couple jumpers off open looks. Jamal Murray scored on their third possession, taking advantage of a transition switch onto Al-Farouq Aminu to get into the paint for an easy shot. Murray hit a 3-pointer on the next possession, and the offense started to click into a groove. Michael Porter Jr. had the first Nuggets turnover, throwing a pass too far over Jokic’s head, but Will Barton made a nice play to force a jump ball. The basketball gods rewarded him on the next possession, helping a runner of his drop through the rim. Michael Carter-Williams tried to score at the rim in transition, but Papa Paul Millsap said no, turning the ball back and creating a scoring opportunity for Jokic in transition.
Jokic was able to find Barton for a layup, but former Nugget Evan Fournier answered with a 3-pointer. MPJ hit a long two-point jumper, and Jokic tossed in a hook shot on their next possession. MPJ had a nice offensive rebound after a Jokic missed shot, helping get Will Barton a wide-open 3-pointer that fell through to push the lead to nine. MCW missed a 3-pointer, a shot that the Nuggets will gladly take, and Jokic had a pretty dunk on a roll through the paint for his fourth basket — his 25th dunk of the season! Murray took the reins of the offense after Jokic went to the bench (winded from his dunk probably), and had a nice acrobatic reverse layup. Murray did miss a layup later, contested by Aaron Gordon, but the ball got tipped to P.J. Dozier who knifed through the lane for a sick layup to double up the Magic, 30-15.
The Nuggets started the second quarter strong, with birthday boy Facu Campazzo hitting a layup, with the Bull-Dozier making an appearance for two consecutive baskets at the rim. Murray was the next Nugget to attack the rim with aggression, finishing a sweet dish from Campazzo with an one-handed dunk to put Denver up by 21 points. 21 point lead after just 15 minutes — the Magic really are struggling to find their way on offense and defense. After a timeout, the Magic were able to get some points from Evan Fournier (don’t google his last name), who hit a couple 3-pointers that lead to Coach Malone calling a timeout of his own to make an adjustment.
Jokic checked back in the game, and warmed up with a comfortable 3-pointer. Fournier answered with another triple, but the Nuggets defense tightened up and forced a couple misses after that, capitalized by a Dozier steal-Campazzo full-court pass-MPJ lay-in. Millsap checked in with about four minutes left for Dozier, and Jokic was able to hit a sensational Sombor Shuffle over Nikola Vucevic from the right baseline. Vucevic missed another shot near the paint, and the Nuggets continued to just eviscerate the Magic with easy transition buckets when they failed to get back on defense. Millsap got a switch onto a guard in transition, and Jokic rewarded his veteran teammate with a clean entry pass that Millsap was able to turn into his first points of the evening. Barton made a nice rotation, finding himself in the right position for a steal that he was able to take all the way the other way for a dunk. Millsap got up for a block on Vucevic, but Orlando retained possession and the Magic’s center got his next shot to fall. Murray drew a double-team, kicked out to Jokic, and the Serbian big man hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put Denver up 61-39 at the half.
The Nuggets started the third quarter with an ridiculously easy play, running MPJ off a screen in the paint to get open for an easy two-handed dunk. The Magic were able to go on an 8-0 run after that basket, struggling with a couple missed shots and turnovers. Barton snapped the Nuggets dry spell with a stepback jumper, and Fournier finally missed a shot. The Nuggets over-helped on a drive, letting Aminu tip in a missed without a body on him, and Fournier attacked the rim in transition after a steal to get another basket to cut the deficit to 11 points. Vucevic chipped in a mid-range jumper over Jokic, with Murray missing a 3-pointer on the other end that lead into an Aaron Gordon 3-pointer in transition to cut the game to 67-59 — a terrible start to the second half for the Nuggets.
Coach Malone brought in a couple reserves, but they weren’t able to help kickstart the Nuggets offense any, with Campazzo missing a 3-pointer from the right corner. Barton had another turnover with a bad pass, but then Jokic was able to make a sensational pass to Green for a layup. Jokic hit a one-handed shot in the paint, doing work around the basket, and the two teams traded missing baskets for a minute before Dozier was able to gather a pass from Jokic for a layup. Aaron Gordon got a friendly home bounce before the buzzer, but the Nuggets were able to escape the quarter having cut their 22-point halftime lead in half.
The Magic started the fourth quarter with a hot start again, reeling off a 6-0 run to cut the Nuggets lead to five points. Bad offense lead to bad defense, and Coach Malone had to call timeout after just two minutes to try to talk sense into his players. They ran a nice play for Murray, who was able to make a tough 3-pointer to help end the Magic’s run. He dribbled into another jumper, just a few feet in front of where he launched his 3-pointer, and splashed that in for his second make of the quarter. The Nuggets left James Ennis III (a 47% shooter) wide open in the corner, and he made them pay by burying a shot. Aaron Gordon backed into the lane for a push shot that fell through, continuing to battle inside. Facu airballed a 3-pointer, but Zeke Nnaji was johnny on the spot with the tip-in. Fournier made another 3-pointer, his fifth of the game, but Murray was able to answer by getting to the free throw line for some points before a quick break.
MPJ and Barton checked in for the closing stretch, but they weren’t able to get a basket on the next possession. Both teams missed a pair of jumpers, but Jokic got a shot to fall over Vucevic to put his team back up by eight points with just under five minutes remaining in the game. Murray played Vucevic straight up, forcing him into a miss, and then MPJ was able to get a tough basket in traffic at the rim. Fournier spun around Dozier on the perimeter, getting into the paint to get up to 31 points on the evening after a free throw. MCW got a little greedy trying to dig down on Jokic, raking him across the arms for his fourth foul and sending him to the line for two free throws. Michael Porter Jr picked a good time for his first 3-pointers of the game, knocking in two shots with a Fournier miss in-between to put the Nuggets back up by double digits. Barton picked off a Gordon pass, but Aminu was able to battle for the block in transition to save a basket. Barton was able to get to the free throw line after the inbounds, making the pair, but Vucevic answered with a hook shot. MPJ missed a dunk in traffic, but Dozier tipped the ball in, and the Nuggets were able to coast after that to the win.
The Nuggets next game is tomorrow against the Toronto Raptors.