The Orlando Magic came quite close to ending their losing streak at nine games on Wednesday, but Kenneth Faried and Andre Miller keyed a rally in the fourth quarter to lead the Denver Nuggets to a 108-105 victory. Orlando led by as many as nine points in the final frame, but simply could not close the deal against an energetic and athletic Denver team.
A trio of free throws by Jameer Nelson gave the Magic a two-point lead with 2:23 to go, but Denver responded with an alley-oop from Andre Iguodala to Faried. Former Nuggets swingman Arron Afflalo, playing his first game in Denver since it traded him to the Magic, missed a deep three-pointer on the Magic's next trip, and the Nuggets rebounded.
Faried essentially won the game for Denver on its ensuing possession. Iguodala drew a shooting foul but missed the ensuing free throws, but Faried snuck in to grab the offensive rebound. His tip shot was no good, and Josh McRoberts and Andrew Nicholson fought for the board, apparently each player unaware that he was fighting with a teammate. From the floor, Faried snared the ball and called timeout for Denver. Had they gotten that rebound, the Magic could have had the ball with the score tied and about 90 seconds to play. Nicholson was only in the game because Nikola Vucevic, the Magic's leading rebounder, fouled out, committing his sixth personal against Iguodala on the play in question.
Instead, Faried's hustle continued Denver's possession, and out of the timeout, Ty Lawson scored a three-point play over Nelson to give the Nuggets a three-point lead.
The heartbreak continued on Orlando's next possession, where McRoberts lobbed the ball to a backdoor-cutting Redick for a layup which missed; the pair had converted on the same action at least three times all year.
On a baseline out-of-bounds play on the Nuggets' next trip, Afflalo and Redick got crossed up defensively as both switched onto Iguodala at the foul-line area, leaving Danilo Gallinari unguarded in the charge circle. Miller smiled as he inbounded the ball to the Italian for the two easiest points the Nuggets would score all night. Gallinari's jam gave Denver a five-point lead, its largest of the night, with 51 seconds to go.
Seven Magic players scored at least nine points, but the team wasn't able to get the defensive stops it needed to in the fourth quarter in order to prevent the losing streak from hitting 10 games. Faried and Lawson had 19 apiece for Denver, with Faried's 19 rebounds also tying a career-high. Miller scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.
Nelson went on the attack in the second quarter, scoring all 10 of his first-half points in the second. He earned a technical foul, his first of the season, for a dust-up with Faried, prompting Magic play-by-play man David Steele to say that Denver "lit his fuse." Nelson had no trouble geting into the teeth of Denver's defense and finishing inside, and his second-quarter outburst was a big reason Orlando entered the locker room with a 55-53 lead.
But perhaps no reason for Orlando's first-half success was larger than the production from its bench. Magic coach Jacque Vaughn used five reserves in the first half, and they all contributed in different ways. Redick scored nine, while Ish Smith posted four points and three assists.
A trio of rookies played well for Orlando in the first half. Starting swingman DeQuan Jones tallied seven points and four boards while running the floor. Little-used reserve center Kyle O'Quinn nailed a pair of surprise baseline jumpers. Maurice Harkless knocked in a corner triple of his own.
But the Magic failed to contain Denver's fast-break game, as many teams do. A particular bugaboo was its off-ball defense against Corey Brewer. The University of Florida product shredded Orlando for 15 first-half points on 7-of-10 despite not having any plays called for him, instead slipping into open space near the rim and awaiting a pass. His success at the rim reminds Orlando and its fans the benefits of having Glen Davis, as the veteran big man would have been more attentive to Brewer cutting off the ball.