Kenneth Faried proved too athletic off the dribble for Orlando's bigs to contain, as he tallied a game-high 26 points to go with nine rebounds, while Wilson Chandler tallied a 21-point, 10-rebound double-double. Ty Lawson kept the offense humming with 12 assists and only one turnover.
Magic big man Nik Vučević got off to a terrific start, scoring 12 of his 20 points in the first period, but he managed just six shot attempts over the final three quarters. Five other Magic players reached double-figure scoring, with Arron Afflalo's 24 leading the way.
Vučević commanded the game at its onset, mixing pick-and-pop accuracy with his usual level of engagement on the offensive glass for tip-ins. With the seven-footer taking care of business inside and out, Orlando built a 27-20 lead after one period, limiting Denver to 40.7 percent shooting and forcing it to play in the half-court more than it'd probably like.
The Magic ran their lead to 13 points just four minutes into the second period on a Doron Lamb three-ball, with Lamb joining Victor OLadipo and E'Twaun Moore in a three-guard set with Tobias Harris and Andrew Nicholson up front. Denver made its run after Lamb's triple by outrebounding Orlando, 12-6, for the rest of the half; credit J.J. Hickson, who snared four boards in that stretch, for helping keep the Magic off the glass.
Denver closed the opening half with a sequence that typified how quickly the Magic's game devolved: Lawson baited Nelson into fouling him on a jumper and then converted the ensuing free throw to give Denver a one-point edge. Kyle O'Quinn threw a poor inbounds pass intended for Maurice Harkless, which pass Lawson picked off. Faried split a pair of free throws with tenths of a second remaining, staking the Nuggets to a 52-50 lead.
Nelson scored eight points in the opening four minutes of the third period--with two threes and a difficult driving shot in traffic--with the second of his triples giving Orlando its first read. But Lawson took it right back at the other end, hitting the first of five three-pointers for Denver in the third. The Nuggets closed the quarter on a 21-8 run, with Chandler and Faried each scoring more (nine) than Orlando did as a team. Faried proved particularly troublesome for the Magic, who at times struggled to locate him in transition even if he brought the ball up himself.
One can't blame turnovers for the way Orlando's fortunes changed from the first period through the second and third: the Magic had only five of those as the fourth quarter got underway, leading to nine Denver points. The main issues were poor rebounding and shot selection. The Nuggets adjusted their defense to deny Vučević inside, and the Magic--with rare exception--failed to leverage the defense against itself to create opportunities for other players.
Moore opened the fourth-quarter scoring with a trey to cut Denver's lead to eight, but Orlando wouldn't make more headway than that, at least not immediately. Hickson scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, helping his Nuggets put Orlando away while they rested their starters. Nelson keyed a 13-5 run to bring Orlando to within five with 2:36 to go, but Lawson answered it with a three-pointer and a pair of free throws to reassert control.
Afflalo responded with a three-pointer and two free throws of his own, giving the Magic another shot. But Aaron Brooks profited off an O'Quinn turnover, driving into the teeth of the Magic's defense to scooping in a layup to put Denver up seven with 43 seconds to go.