Facing a slim, 3-point deficit against the Orlando Magic at halftime, the well-rested Denver Nuggets used a 12-0 burst to start the second half and fuel a rout, outscoring the Magic by 65-44 in the final 24 minutes for an easy 115-97 win. Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups combined to score 51 points on 29 shots to lead Denver, which played four more players in double-figures. Matt Barnes was Orlando's lone bright spot, tossing in 28 points and 9 rebounds. Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Jameer Nelson, the Magic's three healthy All-Stars, were disconcertingly ineffective, with 22 points on 7-of-23 shooting. The result should hardly surprise anyone, as Denver went 18-1 last season against teams in Orlando's predicament: coming to Denver from the Pacific time zone on the second night of a back-to-back. Denver's lone loss in those situations? To Orlando last January.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
Don't let the Nuggets' underperforming in 3 of the 4 factors throw you off: they played flawlessly in the second half. Their mediocre first-half play is what makes the numbers look less impressive. Orlando led at halftime because Denver's turnover problems--9 in 47 possessions, or roughly 1 every 5 trips down the floor--boosted its transition offense. In the half-court, Orlando could not get any clean looks, for any player. The Nuggets aren't a great defensive team all the time, but they really gutted it out on that end tonight. Howard missed 6 of his 7 shots overall and was unable to free himself for a second-half field goal attempt. He also committed 5 turnovers. The Nuggets' rotation of big-men covered him admirably, and timely double-teams threw off Orlando's offensive rhythm. With Lewis and Nelson clanking jumpers from the outside, the task fell to Barnes to carry Orlando's offense on mere hustle alone. That's not a recipe for success, especially against an upper-tier team like Denver.
The Nuggets' vaunted offense did its usual thing today. Anthony and Billups scored, drew fouls, drew defenses away from outside shooters, or found the open man cutting the basket all game long, and particularly in the second half. Clinical precision. They also had the criminally underrated Nenê working in both the low post and from the left wing, where he hit a few jump shots over a helpless Howard and Marcin Gortat. Nenê finished with 14 points, 9 boards, and 3 assists. I feel like Howard would average 25 points per game if he had even Nenê's low-post offensive repertoire. But that's really a different subject.
I mean, I'm not sure what else to write about the Nuggets' offense. You name it, they did it well; or, if you're more negative, the Magic's defense did nothing well. I don't know that any opponent this season has moved the ball against Orlando's defense as intelligently as Denver did. As soon as a Magic player came from the weak-side to offer help or a double-team, the ball reversed to an open shooter... or a cutter dove through the ensuing seam for an easy basket. It was, quite honestly, a treat to watch an offense click at this level. The Magic's late close-outs aided in that regard.
And to keep pace with that sort of offensive onslaught, a team must execute its offense just as well. Orlando didn't muster many stops in the second half, putting pressure on its own offense to produce. Clearly, it didn't happen. Howard, Lewis, and Nelson looked well off their games. The back-to-back doesn't factor into that fact, I don't think. The aggressive double-teams on Howard, with Lewis' lack of rhythm--he picked up 2 fouls in the first quarter and never settled in--and Nelson's lingering knee soreness had more to do with Orlando's malaise than the high altitude or lack of rest did. Denver was just too much for Orlando to handle tonight, on both ends of the floor.
Time to panic? Probably not. Coach Stan Van Gundy spoke after the game about needing to find ways to help Lewis and Nelson get their offense going, with Van Gundy noting that Lewis' poor finishing at the rim has compromised his effectiveness. It's true: Lewis is converting fewer than half of his shots at the rim, per Hoopdata. I'm not sure what Van Gundy can do to boost those players, but he needs to find an answer fairly soon. Orlando's lead over the Atlanta Hawks in the Southeast Division stand at just one half-game, and Atlanta plays its next 4 games at home.