The Denver Nuggets blew an 18-point third quarter lead and could not recover in the final moments, losing to the Orlando Magic 122-120 in Ball Arena. Nikola Jokic had 29 points and 8 assists but only 4 rebounds as Denver lost the rebounding battle 40-38. Jamal Murray had one of his worst nights in recent memory, scoring 20 points on 9-for-23 shooting while getting exposed defensively for much of the game. Michael Porter Jr. started strong and finished with 22 points on 14 shots, but only had one shot in the 4th quarter with the game in the balance. Paolo Banchero had a triple-double with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists while Jalen Suggs had a career-high 27 points and 7 made threes to lead Orlando to victory.

Game Recap

Jalen Suggs and Paolo Banchero made a pair of buckets to open the scoring for Orlando, while KCP and Jamal Murray both missed their shots. MPJ finally made a bucket for Denver after Moritz Wagner had some Orlando free throws, and AG at the line made it 6-4 Orlando early. Banchero made a layup after a Denver turnover, Murray answered with a bucket, and Banchero’s answer was followed by a traditional three-point play from Jokic. MPJ finished a back-handed layup, Murray finished a transition layup, and Porter took a rebound down for a three on the other end for a 16-10 Nuggets lead.

Murray got blocked at the rim, but next time down Aaron Gordon – whose shooting has been better from the field and the line – buried a three. Banchero finished a three-point play through Murray’s foul, and then MPJ had gorgeous late-clock turnaround jumper. Denver’s defense kept harassing Orlando and Denver ran on every mistake, with AG finishing a paint bucket through contact for a 24-13 lead. Orlando hit a couple of threes, Jokic missed two paint buckets, and a Denver turnover led to a Banchero dunk and cut Denver’s lead to 2 and 26-24. Christian Braun came in and immediately hit a three, AG tipped in a Reggie-Jackson miss, but Orlando kept hanging around. Reggie Jackson nailed a three and then finished in the paint after a Braxton Key rebound (in for Watson after Peyton picked up two quick fouls) and Denver led after one 37-28.

Key got blocked at the rim but Braun made a layup to answer an Orlando 3 at the start of the second quarter. Jackson finished a euro-step and Zeke Nnaji muscled a guard out of the way for a layup and a 43-36 Denver lead. Braxton Key buried a three for a 10 point lead when Jokic came back in at 48-38. Suggs hit a 3 for Orlando, Murray answered with a long two and Porter hit a free-throw line jumper to keep the lead at 10. Jokic then hit the quick-spin baseline for a beautiful bank finish and a 56-44 advantage.

Denver went around the horn to every Nugget before Porter swished a three, and Jokic had another rim finish to put the Nuggets up 17. Suggs buried another three for Orlando to try to keep it close, and Banchero made another inside shot. KCP missed a three, then fumbled a rebound and Orlando cut it to 10. Pope made a layup the next time down, Jokic made an AG-assisted shot at the rim, and Murray took Denver into the half up 67-54 despite his made 35-foot shot at the buzzer coming too late.


Jokic opened the second half with an easy bank shot, MPJ buried a corner shot, and Wagner’s spin around Jokic was countered by a Porter three. KCP made a pair of free throws to answer another Wagner bucket, and MPJ got a steal but couldn’t finish the shot on the other end. Jokic had a beautiful outlet pass to Murray for a layup and a 78-60 Nuggets lead. The Magic hit a pair of threes to cut it to 12, answered by a Murray layup. But Suggs banked in a terrible three for a great make, then Wagner ran down the paint to cut it to single-digits. Murray to Jokic wound up in a layup, and again the next time down created a three-point play. Murray and Cole Anthony traded buckets, before another beautiful Murry-to-Nikola finish down the lane. Orlando’s three point shooting kept them in the game though, and they cut the lead to five as Denver’s defense flatlined. Watson got a turnover through effort and Jokic rewarded him with an assist for a Peyton dunk, but Braun’s turnover cost proved a 4 point turnaround. Jokic finished a layup, Aaron Gordon hit a three that Banchero matched, and the Nuggets lead was cut to just three at 98-95 with one quarter to go.

Orlando came out with the first two buckets of the fourth quarter for the lead. Reggie finished a drive and Denver got a turnover for a spectacular Watson dunk off a Braun missed three. Suggs continued his career shooting night with another three, though, and Denver’s starters came back in down one score at 105-103. A poor transition defense put them down two buckets but MPJ hit a three to keep it to one score. Watson got called for a dicey shooting foul on a block, but Denver got into the bonus at the six minute mark and Jokic made 1 of 2. He waved off MPJ and flipped in a bucket the next time off, but Orlando’s parade to the line continued as Denver fouled nearly every possession. Murray finished in the paint but missed a three, AG made one of two free throws, and Orlando lead 115-112 with under 4 minutes to go. The Nuggets couldn’t make shots until Jokic finally put in a 15-footer, but Cole Anthony answered. Jokic made another paint bunny, AG got a dunk (with no foul call) and Murray hit the deck with a rebound and got fouled. He made both free throws to put Denver up 120-118 with 47 seconds to go. Banchero made two of his own to tie it at 120. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made a horrible turnover on a pass and Banchero at the line put Orlando up 2, and the Nuggets had horrible execution on their final play that somehow wound up with Murray missing an off-balance, one-handed prayer at the buzzer as Denver lost 122-120.

Final Thoughts

– The Nuggets let this one get away. Jamal Murray had a brutal night, getting treated like wet tissue paper on defense and scoring just 20 points on 23 shots, including the final missed one. Bad turnovers hurt Denver, but it was that third quarter where the starters were up 18 and then just stopped playing for several minutes that the Nuggets simply could not recover from. Denver was on fumes, and didn’t have enough late, but that’s partly because they didn’t handle their business in the third quarter when they should have. One of these games the Nuggets are going to need to be willing to let MPJ take some shots down the stretch, too, especially when he’s been hot all game. The Murray/Jokic two-man game can’t solve every problem, especially when half of it is struggling.

– Details matter in the final minutes, and the Nuggets didn’t handle theirs. The KCP turnover was egregious, allowing Orlando to get out in transition. MPJ getting outrebounded by Suggs, half a foot shorter than him, and then fouling him was awful. Murray being incapable of getting the ball to Jokic and instead trying to take on the entire Orlando defense himself on the final play iced the loss. As good as the comeback against Golden State felt, it can’t quite absolve the Nuggets of letting go of the rope in this one to a beat-up Orlando squad that had no business taking this win after trailing by that huge number. Credit to the Magic for fighting back and being willing to sprint all over the court and do the dirty hustle work that Denver was not willing to do, though.

– No more back-to-backs for a month. The remainder of January has zero no-rest games. Denver should be able to finally stop fighting the calendar and bank some consistency in these games, despite letting this one slip away. Looking forward to their schedule getting more casual so they can handle the business of securing home court, one game at a time.