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Orlando Magic 85, Denver Nuggets 82

Jameer Nelson hit a three-pointer as time expired, lifting the Orlando Magic to an 85-82 win over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night for the Magic's second straight victory. With 5.7 seconds remaining, Nelson received a side out-of-bounds entry pass from Hedo Turkoglu near the "M" in the Magic's center court logo and took Denver's Ty Lawson one-on-one off the dribble. Nelson headed to his left slightly, then crossed back to his right and elevated for the winning shot, which went through the net just as time expired. Lawson defended Nelson well enough and gave a solid effort to contest the shot, but letting Nelson go left enabled Orlando's point guard to make an easy, comfortable transition back to his dominant hand, whereas forcing him to the right may have complicated the process of getting the shot off.

Neither team played particularly well at the offensive end, with both clubs shooting worse than 40 percent from the floor and committing plenty of turnovers. Denver, it seemed to me, settled for too many jumpers throughout the night, while the Magic simply couldn't get enough ball and player movement to generate open shots against the Nuggets' athletic, hard-working defense. Wilson Chandler scored 20 points to lead everyone, while Danilo Gallinari added 17 off Denver's bench, but the Magic had a more balanced approach: all five starters scored in double figures, led by Dwight Howard's 16 points, and Ryan Anderson nearly joined them, scoring 9 off the pine.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Nuggets 89 92.3 39.7% 25.6 24.5 18.0
Magic 89 95.6 43.3% 26.7 28.6 20.2
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Even considering the coin-flip nature of this win--the Magic only won at the buzzer on a great shot, and outscored the Nuggets in just one quarter of the game--this win has to count among the Magic's best of the season, for several reasons. The biggest is the energy and effort they gave. Orlando went 3-2 on its recent road trip, but didn't play particularly well on either end of the floor. That changed tonight, with the Magic doing an outstanding job making the Nuggets work hard for their shots, running down loose balls, and overall displaying more "motor" than they have of late. We tend to associate these sorts of ugly, grind-it-out games with postseason ball, and while that connection is at times overstated, one has to be encouraged with Orlando's performance tonight in such a game.

Second, the Magic pulled off the win with a patchwork backcourt, as neither component of its typical second unit of Gilbert Arenas and J.J. Redick took the floor tonight. Instead, coach Stan Van Gundy rotated Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson at the reserve guard spots. They didn't do much, combining for 6 points on 3-of-7 shooting in 35 minutes, but it proved to be just enough to squeak by Denver.

Finally, there's the simple fact that the Nuggets are a damn good team. They entered the game with a 9-2 record since trading superstar forward Carmelo Anthony and starting point guard Chauncey Billups to the New York Knicks, an improvement due largely to better ball movement and a greater commitment to defense. We saw the latter of those elements on display tonight. John Hollinger's Power Rankings, which are completely objective, as they're determined via a mathematical formula, have Denver as the league's third-best team at the moment. And Orlando held it to 82 points in a slow game.

The Magic wouldn't have needed Nelson's game-winner had Turkoglu come through at the foul line on their previous possession. The Magic had the ball with a two-point lead, forcing the Nuggets to foul intentionally. The erstwhile Mr. Fourth Quarter clanked both freebies off the iron, Raymond Felton snuck in for the rebound, and the Nuggets got another chance. The Magic shot 2-of-6 at the line with under two minutes remaining in tonight's game, and it nearly cost them.

On the ensuing Nuggets possession, Gallinari drove past Turkoglu along the right baseline and earned a dubious foul call; though the two players did collide, Gallinari initiated the contact, and Turkoglu merely held both his arms straight up. Gallinari made both free throws to knot the score and set the stage for Nelson's winning shot.

I would have liked to see more creativity from the Magic on their final possession, where they essentially flattened the floor for Nelson to isolate his man, but it's tough to argue with the result; he did get a pretty good look at the basket, and the shot was reasonably close to the three-point line, in contrast to Jason Richardson's deep three-point attempt to end regulation against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.