Denver Nuggets 111, Orlando Magic 94

J.J. Redick gave the Orlando Magic the finest performance of his professional career on Tuesday night, but his lights-out shooting went for naught as the Denver Nuggets easily dispatched Orlando, 111-94, behind 35 points from Carmelo Anthony. Redick shot 9-of-12 from the floor, 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, 5-of-7 from the foul line, and even converted a five-point play, but of his seven teammates in uniform, only Dwight Howard provided offensive support. The veteran center scored 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting; the other six Magic players shot 16-of-51 from the floor, scored 44 points, and committed 8 turnovers.

Denver, in contrast, got solid play from darn near everyone. Six players scored in double-figures, and all did so with solid efficiency. Without Quentin Richardson or Mickael Pietrus available, Orlando had no one who could stop Anthony from getting to essentially wherever he wanted. 35 points on 14-of-21 from the floor for the gifted scorer, and he missed his two three-point attempts, which gives you an idea of how fantastic he was inside the arc. Whether driving to shoot or driving to set up a step-back jumper, he was unstoppable.

As I said, though, his complementary pieces did him a collective solid tonight by making the most of their chances. 16 apiece from shooting guards J.R. Smith and Arron Afflalo; 15 from spot-starting point guard Ty Lawson; 12 from stretch forward Al Harrington, on four three-point makes; and 10 from Nenê, on 4-of-7 from the floor? Good luck beating Denver when all those guys are dialed in, as they were tonight.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 92 102.2 50.0% 20.5 17.5 14.1
Nuggets 92 120.7 60.6% 17.5 20.6 16.3
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Orlando made its intentions to a) push the ball and b) use Howard as a defensive free-safety even more than usual rather early on. The Magic, for long stretches of this game, tried pushing the pace at Denver's preferred tempo, which doesn't strike me as a particularly sound move. In general, I think a better plan is to take an opponent out of its comfort zone, to impose your will on it.

The second decision, though, is far wiser. In putting Howard on utter non-threat Shelden Williams, Orlando freed the league's best interior defender to play help-and-recover to a dramatic extent. Again, without Pietrus or Richardson, the Magic needed all the help they could get to cover Anthony. Putting Howard on Williams enabled them to double-team with prejudice, if needed. I liked that call.

The problem with that choice is it forces Brandon Bass to cover Nenê, which didn't work out so well. Bass has improved his individual and team defense this year, but Nenê is a bit too quick and skilled in the low post for even him to handle. On Denver's first possession, he posted Bass on the right block, caught the entry pass, and leveraged Bass' body against him, spinning baseline for a layup. On the next possession, Nenê got physical battling Bass for position, and drew a non-shooting foul.

Nenê got physical with everyone tonight, though. Though Howard put up impressive numbers, Nenê's ball-denial late forced the Magic to look elsewhere offensively. He also forced two three-second violations by locking Howard up and holding him in the painted area for too long. No, that's not legal, but the officials didn't notice it and they proved to be sound plays. The final straw for Magic coach Stan Van Gundy with regard to Nenê's physical play? At the 3:13 mark of the final period, with the game slipping away from Orlando, the Brazilian center casually cast Redick aside with his right hand while snagging an offensive rebound. He then dished to Afflalo in the left corner for a backbreaking trey, giving Denver a 105-93 lead with 3:10 to play. Van Gundy earned a technical foul protesting the play.

I credit Orlando for fighting its way back into the game. It trailed by 10 points with less than a minute remaining in the first half, but scored 12 unanswered between the second and third quarters to take a two-point lead. The Magic went on to hold Denver to 18 points in the third quarter and trailed by a single point heading into the final frame. That Denver managed 111 points in the game despite an 18-point quarter says a lot about either the Magic's defense or the Nuggets' hot shooting, depending on your point of view.

Against a tough home team like Denver--which is now 11-1 at Pepsi Center--opponents already have a small margin for error. Orlando's margin shrunk when it learned it would not have the services of Pietrus or Richardson this evening. Overcoming those deficits with only an eight-man rotation--Malik Allen and Chris Duhon did not play--would have been a tall task. The Magic's performance through the first 36 minutes suggested they were up to it, but the Nuggets doubled them up, 32-16, in the fourth quarter. To fall so hard like that must sting, especially when Redick's remarkable five-point play gave the Magic a one-point lead with 11:02 remaining. Smith senselessly fouled Redick on a made three-point basket, then earned a technical foul for protesting non-call that occurred on Denver's previous possession. Redick drained both foul shots to complete the rare feat, but for the rest of the game, Denver stole the show, to the tune of 29-11.

Orlando's offense just died, really, with Nenê keeping Howard occupied inside, running opportunities dwindling with each Nuggets made basket--few teams can push the ball when taking it out of their own net--and no one on the perimeter particularly interested in driving the ball. For whatever reason--I'm helpless to speculate--Jameer Nelson contended himself to only halfheartedly turn the corner on his high pick-and-roll chances. Without many drives to the basket--I do recall two missed layups and a dish to Bass for a jumper--he did little to keep Denver's defense on its heels. Individually, he finished with 2 points on 1-of-10 shooting, 8 assists, and 4 turnovers in an uninspiring performance.

He's not alone in sharing the blame. Again, only Howard and Redick played well tonight; everyone else was mediocre at best, which goes back to my earlier point about margin of error. At least two more players needed to come up big for Orlando to have a chance against this hot-shooting Nuggets team.

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