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Orlando Magic 103, Denver Nuggets 97

J.J. Redick stepped into Vince Carter's spot in the Orlando Magic's rotation Sunday night against the Denver Nuggets and delivered, leading the Magic with 23 points and a career-high 8 assists in Orlando's 106-97 win. He also added 7 rebounds, another career-high, in a performance the eight-time All-Star Carter, who left the game after 2 minutes with a sprained right big toe, would have been hard-pressed to duplicate. Redick was one of 6 Orlando players to score in double figures, and his jumper with 2:57 to play, which circled the rim several times before dropping through, gave Orlando a crucial 7-point lead. Curiously, Orlando's two leading scorers came from its bench, with Ryan Anderson scoring 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting in 20 minutes off the pine. Denver shot well from the field (a scorching 55.6% effective field goal shooting), but Orlando's defense did its job by keeping the lethal combination of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups off the foul line. The pair combine to shoot 16.6 free throws per game to lead the league's best foul-drawing team, but Billups never got there and Anthony managed just 4 attempts--all drawn in the final period with Rashard Lewis covering him--as the referees let a lot of contact go uncalled, both ways. Without the benefit of foul shots, Anthony and Billups struggled to score efficiently, with 44 points on 42 shots. Orlando's Dwight Howard had 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists, and Matt Barnes scored 16.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Nuggets 82 117.7 55.6% 10.0 25.0 12.1
Magic 84 122.4 56.3% 17.7 25.0 10.7
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Prior to tipoff, ESPN's John Hollinger called the game "the alternative finals preview," as it features two teams in title contention who are fighting for recognition in their respective conferences. He was right to amend his statement to "alternative universe" at halftime, though, because this game got weird in a hurry. Carter sprained his big toe--you can insert your own punchline about his fragility here--Redick came on and immediately made an impact, Anthony couldn't get any whistles to go his way, and Denver's Malik Allen came from nowhere to lead the Nuggets with a season-high 10 points at the half. It continued into the second, with Redick's aforementioned around-the-rim jumper and the usually composed Billups drawing a technical foul after angrily swiping the ball from referee Curtis Blair... just bizarre, and hard to make much sense of.

Denver trailed by a single point at halftime but took control of the game in the third quarter, scoring on each of their first 8 possessions to jump out to a 67-57 lead. During that stretch, the Nuggets shot 8-of-10, with their two misses coming on the same possession, which Anthony saved with a layup. But that's just it, though. Apart from that 4-plus-minute stretch, the Nuggets struggled to score relative to expectation: for the rest of the game, they managed 81 points on 74 possessions, or 1.095 points per. That figure bests the league average (1.072) and what the Magic usually allow (1.027), but not their usual rate of 1.121. With Anthony and Billups not getting it done, Denver should count itself lucky to just in the game, to be honest. Credit Allen, Nene, and J.R. Smith for stepping up. Nene scored at his 14-point average and Smith added 13, which is 2 points off his average. However, the glacial pace of this game makes their totals more impressive than they may appear. Denver had 13 fewer possessions than its average, which suggests that a faster-paced game would have inflated their stats to well beyond their averages.

Anyway, Orlando bombed its way back into the game with 5 three-pointers in the third, none bigger than Anderson's at the end of the quarter, which knotted the score at 77. The momentum carried into the final frame, with Anderson drilling another trey on Orlando's opening possession. The Nuggets never got closer than within 2 points in the fourth, and two possessions after they did for the final time, Anderson canned another three-ball. Redick's circus jumper kicked off a stretch in which Orlando put the game away, as Nelson and Barnes hit shots of their own on the Magic's next two possessions, with Barnes' giving Orlando a decisive 101-90 edge with 1:50 to play.

The win puts Orlando a solid 30 games over .500 at 52-22 and helps it maintain its lead over Boston and Atlanta , which both won today, in the standings at 4 games and at 4.5 games, respectively. It also indicates that Anderson has reclaimed the backup power forward position from Brandon Bass. In the last 2 games, Anderson's scored 38 points in 44 minutes on 72.5% True Shooting, and grabbed 14 boards to boot.