(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The speed and athleticism of the Denver Nuggets carried them to an easy 101-74 victory over the Orlando Magic on Sunday night, sending Orlando to its third consecutive defeat and keeping the visiting Magic from clinching the sixth seed in the NBA's Eastern Conference. JaVale McGee and Danilo Gallinari scored 17 points apiece for the Nuggets, which placed five players in double-figure scoring, while Ryan Anderson posted a game-high 24 points for the slumping Magic. Denver exploited the absence of Magic center Dwight Howard, the three-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, to great effect, scoring 64 points in the paint and winning the rebounding battle by a 43-33 margin.
Orlando battled gamely for the first half, as it lost starting point guard Jameer Nelson to a left-knee contusion less than three minutes into the game. Anderson stepped up offensively as Chris Duhon and Ish Smith handled Nelson's duties at point guard, helping the Magic to knot the score at 44 heading into intermission.
But the Magic fell apart from there, succumbing to Denver's superior athleticism, and perhaps their own level of fatigue. Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy made no excuses for his team after the game. "We ran out of focus and competitiveness," he said, according to John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com. "That’s what we ran out of." Denver's 22-13 rebound advantage in the second half, in concert with its 65.8 percent shooting, the Magic's 10 turnovers, and its 38-8 points-in-the-paint edge, certainly points toward a gassed team that simply couldn't hang.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
McGee, among the most athletic big-men in the game, turned the tide after halftime by scoring 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting in just 11 minutes. He added four boards and two blocks for good measure. Were Howard healthy, there's simply no way he'd be as productive or efficient, but this weakness is one Orlando can anticipate its opponents exploiting as Howard misses the rest of the season to recover from back surgery.
Another weakness that Howard's absence highlights is the Magic's inability to stop dribble-penetration. Nuggets point guards Ty Lawson and Andre Miller got wherever they wanted to on the floor with ease, combining for 21 assists to just three turnovers. Further damning Orlando's defense, which is horribly susceptible to ball-watching: according to mySynergySports.com, Denver scored 25 points on a whopping 17 cuts to the basket, shooting 14-of-16 from the floor.
Orlando needs just one win to lock-in a first-round playoff series against the Pacers, and has a golden opportunity to accomplish as much on Wednesday when it hosts the league-worst Charlotte Bobcats. Michael Jordan's team has lost 20 games in a row and has earned just three wins in 31 road games. The Magic can afford to make the sort of mistakes they've been making against such an inept group, despite the fact that Charlotte spanked Orlando by 16 points on March 6th.