On Martin Luther King Jr. day, the Nuggets put on a great performance in sharing the wealth.

The Denver Nuggets were out to prove that their performance across the pond was not a fluke, and they succeeded with a 125-112 victory over the Orlando Magic. Nikola Jokic put up a career high in points, finishing with 30 to go with 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals.

The Nuggets decided to change things up again with their starting lineup, reinserting Kenneth Faried for Wilson Chandler. With the change, the starting lineup reverted back to last year’s starting group for the first time this season.

The game started out with a designed screen and roll to Nikola Jokic, who was fouled and earned two points at the line. Offense flowed very nicely for the Nuggets to start the game, as they attacked the rim in multiple ways. Unfortunately, Gary Harris came up lame on a drive to the rim, possibly aggravating a nagging groin injury. While he had two turnovers, Jokic started out the game strong with 16 points in the first few minutes. He did his damage mostly inside the paint, but a three pointer helped get him to 6/6 from the field in the first quarter. Mudiay also started the game very well with an early seven points and three assists.

The Magic kept fighting though. They used a consistent effort across the board to stay close to the hot shooting Nuggets. Every player that played minutes for the Magic scored except C.J. Watson. As the bench players filed in for both teams, the Nuggets lost a bit of cohesiveness, while the Magic scored in bunches at the end of the first quarter.

The Nuggets started with Jameer Nelson-Jamal Murray-Will Barton-Wilson Chandler-Jusuf Nurkic in the second quarter. Nurkic made a couple of hustle plays on both ends, but he negated it with some dumb plays as well. Chandler made a three off of one of those hustle plays, but the offense certainly felt disjointed overall.

Quickly, Michael Malone subbed back in the starters at the seven minute mark, and Mudiay immediately made an imprint. After another sweet pass into the lane to Jokic, Mudiay ran the fast break and had another monster dunk in transition.

At this point, the offense slowed down a bit for Denver. They continued to generate open shots, but those shots simply weren’t finding the bottom of the net. It took an incredible stop from Faried on one end and a coast-to-coast drive on the other to get them going again. This group still couldn’t slow anyone down defensively, but the pace of the game slowed down considerably. Mudiay continued to rise to the occasion though, as he and Jokic combined for 34 points and nine assists, with the Nuggets leading 69-61 at halftime.

Nelson started the second half for Gary Harris, who wouldn’t return to the game. Mudiay started the second half incredibly well, whipping some nice passes to teammates on the run or in the shooting pocket. The entire group played incredibly well. Jokic as a facilitator, Gallo as a slasher and shooter, Faried as a finisher under the rim, Nelson as a floor spacer and stabilizer. The team ran on all cylinders to start the quarter, and the ball was just “popping” to quote a certain editor.

As Jokic was subbed out, the team began playing more one-on-one basketball. Fortunately, it didn’t kill them, and the third quarter finished with the Nuggets up 100-83.

Juancho Hernangomez made a surprise check-in at the start of the fourth quarter, and he made his impact felt immediately with a great deflection defensively a layup at the other end. The Nuggets just continued to play hard on both ends, cutting hard, running the floor, making the extra pass, and showing the desire that Orlando just didn’t have. Bismack Biyombo went down hard on a cut to the rim, so hopefully, he’s okay.

The Magic didn’t quit, and Elfrid Payton was the main instigator. He continued to get into the lane consistently and either score or facilitate good looks, keeping the Magic close. Jokic and the Nuggets kept the Magic at arm’s length though, as he posted his first 30-point game and a career high to boot. Denver’s streak of 30-point quarters came to an end, but they had a great exclamation point on the game with a Nelson-Faried alley-oop.

Denver was able to close out a much needed victory over the Magic with a 125-112 victory.

Three Takeaways

  • The offense is for real. Nikola Jokic helped get the group out to a great start, but he was far from the only one helping the cause. Mudiay had perhaps his best game of the season, whipping the ball around with incredible confidence and facilitating great offense. Gallinari continue to pour in points from multiple levels. Faried was a recipient of many passes from everyone due to being in the correct spot on the floor. The bench offense is still shaky, but with Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, and Jamal Murray, I have confidence that they will figure it out.
  • Backup center is still a work in progress. Jusuf Nurkic should be able to lock this position down eventually, but he’s been very inconsistent. Today, he had a difficult game, with just two points and a rebound in his six minute stint. The team looked very disjointed with both him and Faried at center, so hopefully, a good candidate for those minutes will emerge at some point.
  • Let’s hope Gary Harris is okay. Jameer Nelson starting next to Emmanuel Mudiay is disastrous for multiple reasons. Mudiay played well this game, but the Nuggets’ defensive wanes in dangerous ways with Nelson and Mudiay together. Nelson also operates at his best with the ball in his hands, which defeat the purpose of Point-Jokic. Either way, Harris has been having a great, albeit injury-riddled season. Hopefully he can bounce back quickly.


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