The Denver Nuggets blew out the Orlando Magic tonight 112-87. Trey Lyles led all scorers with 22 points off the bench. Jamal Murray added 16 points. Nikola Jokic had just six points, but his rebounding (10), passing (11 assists), and defense were all great. Denver held Orlando under 90 points, a great sign of their defense being ON POINT.

The Nuggets began the game with their usual five starters, and while some of the easy shots weren’t falling, the defense was elite. Contests on every shot, forcing tough, leaning looks every time, including Jokic guarding his counterpart, Nikola Vucevic. On the other side, Jokic was excellent at passing open his teammates, but very few players could get those looks to go consistently. Harris in particular started ice cold in his first stint, going 0/6 on decent looks. As the bench entered, Denver started to get going offensively, headed up by Trey Lyles, who scored six points on three straight possessions. Still, the Magic scored enough to keep in contact, with Denver leading 21-19 after the first quarter.

To begin the second quarter, the Nuggets got some great minutes from Mason Plumlee on both ends, wrecking havoc on defense and making some great decisions on the other end. An issue arose on defense though: Terrence Ross got really hot on his jump shots, and neither Malik Beasley nor Juancho Hernangomez could stay with him. Gary Harris got his turn, and Ross lost him off a screen for a midrange jumper. When Jokic came back on the floor, he went right back to directing traffic offensively, and once Denver’s shots started to fall, the assists started piling up. From Millsap shots inside, to Harris starting to get warm, to Juancho three-pointers, Denver opened up a nice 12-point lead going into half, 54-41.

Denver started the third quarter slow, and it began with slow, dysfunctional offense and leaving Aaron Gordon open. After settling down, Jokic continued to direct traffic, while the Nuggets defense rotated with pace on the other end. Murray had some nice looks, a couple with the assist from Jokic. Orlando’s offense slowed down, but Gordon and Vucevic kept the Magic in touch. Ross came back in and stayed hot, but Denver kept the ball out of his hands for the most part. Denver led 80-68 after three quarters.

Denver started the fourth quarter with solid play on both ends, letting the right players finish on offense for the Magic and getting out in transition. While Lyles wasn’t shooting from the perimeter well, he did a ton of damage inside the arc, attaining a season high of ____ points tonight. Monte Morris ran the show well, Murray played solid defense and made the right decision on the other end, and Denver’s bench group + Murray separated Denver from Orlando. That included this And-1 on an INSANE pass from Mason Plumlee.

After that, Thomas Welsh came in, canned a three for the first points of his career, and basically called game. Nuggets win via blowout.

Three Things to watch for:

Can the Nuggets get to the free throw line?

It wasn’t great, but it was certainly a better performance than this past road trip. The Nuggets got to the line a total of 17 times, making 15 of those looks. The Magic only went 17/19 from the line by comparison, so the message was clearly received. Winning the free throw battle is so important, especially when neither team shoots exceptionally well. It wasn’t great, but it worked.

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

Well, no, but it didn’t matter tonight. Denver’s defense was on point, and because Denver held the Magic to 87 points, it simply didn’t matter.

Do not underestimate the Orlando Magic

“Stop saying stupid things, Mr. Blackburn.”

The Denver Nuggets

Another thing that happened: A new streak?

Denver has been close to winning a few times during their 6 losses in 7 games stretch, but after they finally won against Minnesota on Wednesday, it felt like a weight came off Denver’s shoulders. Tonight, they played like it, especially on the bench, executing well on both ends even though the threes weren’t falling with the first unit. The goal now: harness this energy for tomorrow against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook and the gang hold a share on first place in the West right now. They’re playing well themselves, going 12-2 after starting the season 0-4.

Denver has a tough road ahead of them, but there are winnable games. Can they put it all together and string some game together? We will see.