Being a Denver Nuggets fan is a crazy experience.

One night, the Nuggets are losing their fifth in a row, looking like the straw has finally broken the camel’s back. The next? They put up 140 points against an above .500 team, frankly embarrassing the Indiana Pacers in London. Nikola Jokic, in spite of the losing lately, has been introduced into the starting lineup and completely changed the team during the last 12 games. The team is playing incredibly offensively now, and if they can continue to improve moderately on defense, the playoffs are still a possibility.

The Orlando Magic have the 27th ranked offense and the 20th ranked defense on the season, and not much has changed the past month. The Magic are 6-9 over their last 15 games, including losing five of the last six games on a western conference road trip. They are in a much worse situation than the Nuggets at this point, as their divide between youth and experience is nearly as plain as Denver’s. D.J. Augustin (29 years old) and Serge Ibaka (27) are currently starting at point guard and power forward. Because of that, Aaron Gordon (21) not currently playing the minutes at power forward that he needs to develop, while Mario Hezonja (21) isn’t playing at all. The pressure to win in Orlando is very high, and because of it, general manager Rob Hennigan has made some questionable decisions trying to skip rebuilding steps. The Magic tried to make Ibaka their star, and like Danilo Gallinari in Denver, it hasn’t worked.

Because of this, I would expect a highly competitive effort from Orlando. They are used to playing earlier in the day, and this game in the afternoon will truly test the Nuggets and their ability to get ready quickly. After a big win and multiple days off, it would be easy for Denver to be complacent. Michael Malone has preached that the Nuggets must be ready to play at the opening tip and stay focused. If they don’t, this game could get ugly. That being said, I believe Jokic and the troops will be ready to go.

The Basics

Who: Orlando Magic (17-25) at Denver Nuggets (15-23)

When: 3:00 P.M. MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

How to watch: NBA TV, Altitude TV

Rival blog: Orlando Pinstriped Post

Position Nuggets Magic Advantage
PG Emmanuel Mudiay Elfrid Payton Even
SG Gary Harris Jodie Meeks (???) Nuggets
SF Danilo Gallinari Aaron Gordon Nuggets
PF Wilson Chandler Serge Ibaka Magic
C Nikola Jokic Nikola Vucevic Nuggets
Bench Jameer Nelson, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Kenneth Faried, Jusuf Nurkic, Juancho Hernangomez D.J. Augustin, C.J. Watson, Mario Hezonja, Jeff Green, Bismack Biyombo Nuggets

Injury Report: Darrell Arthur – doubtful (knee soreness), Evan Fournier – doubtful (right heel)

What to watch for: young point guards and Nikolas

Elfrid Payton is coming off of a game against the Utah Jazz in which he put up 28 efficient points and nine assists. The Jazz have George Hill and the best defensive rating in the entire NBA, so it’s a pretty big deal for a 22-year-old. Payton is a very streaky player, so it will be important for Emmanuel Mudiay to defend him with intensity from the outset and force Payton to defend on the other end.

Nikola Jokic will be going up against Nikola Vucevic in all likelihood, which is a very interesting matchup. On one hand, Vucevic was once a young prospect with great offensive potential who simply needed to figure things out defensively and become an anchor for the Magic. He never became the anchor they needed, so they traded for Serge Ibaka and signed Bismack Biyombo for $18 million per season. Jokic already looks like a more well-rounded player at this point in his career, but there is potential for Jokic to go down the Vucevic path, which would really hinder the Nuggets in taking their next rebuilding steps. Hopefully, Jokic’s transcendent offensive talents make this conversation moot.

Key Stat: 27.4

That’s the average points per game that Orlando’s current bench averages if Evan Fournier doesn’t play, including the deep reserves that don’t play. By comparison, Denver’s total bench averages 56.7 points per game. Denver has many players capable of going off at any moment on their bench, while Orlando’s firepower is extremely limited. If Denver’s bench can continue to make life difficult for their counterparts on the Magic, then the starters will generate enough offense to win.

Opening thought: Keep the pressure on

Playing with intensity, generating turnovers, and attacking the basket won the game against the Pacers in a big way on Thursday. The players played well, and it helped that Gallo got the team off the a great start in the first quarter, but it’s truly amazing how well a team performs when they simply play hard and commit to playing basketball the right way. The Nuggets are developing their style of play, and it involves incredibly hard work for Mudiay, Gallinari, Gary Harris, and Wilson Chandler. These guys have to keep their man out of the lane defensively and be willing to cut hard offensively for the game to go well. On the bench, minutes have been changed up constantly for many players, so giving intensity every time down the floor can be a struggle when the next minute, that guy could be benched for the game. That being said, the Nuggets are at their absolute best when every player is motivated to play and committed to the scheme. Michael Malone’s game plan helped the Nuggets earn a blowout win last time, so hopefully the players continue to commit to his style for the rest of the year. If they do the 8 seed could very well be in the future of this group.

For now, enjoy this wonderful video from Aniello Piro at Mile High Sports of Jamal Murray showing off his hops. Get this man in the dunk contest!