Losers of two straight, both in uninspiring fashion, the Orlando Magic looked to turn things back around at home against the Denver Nuggets. Despite holding a lead in the fourth quarter, the Magic weren’t able to keep the energy going, falling to the Nuggets, 121-113.
Beaten and battered from their loss in Charlotte on Friday night, the Magic were without Nikola Vucevic, who suffered a lower back contusion, while Bismack Biymobo (shoulder) and Jeff Green (ankle) suited up despite their respective injuries. As has been the issue for much of the season for the Magic, the offense came out slow, struggling to find quality looks on many possessions. Orlando’s defense, which had been strong overall in the last month, continued their slippage, giving up 56.5 percent shooting to the Nuggets, including 20 points on 10-17 shooting in the painted area. After one, the Magic trailed the visiting Nuggets by three, 32-29.
With Vucevic out, Frank Vogel had to dig deep onto his bench for his second unit, inserting big man Stephen Zimmerman, who returned earlier Saturday from the D-League, and Mario Hezonja. Both young Magic men struggled, with Hezonja losing Juan Henangomez time-after-time for open three-pointers, while Zimmerman looked lost defensively in his own right. Overall the Magic continued to struggle on both ends, failing to slow down the Nuggets defensively, while seeing the ball stick for poor possessions offensively. At the half, the Nuggets were in control, leading the Magic by seven, 65-58.
Unlike their previous two contests, the Magic were able to keep things afloat out of halftime, not letting the Nuggets put their foot on the gas anymore. Behind strong play from Serge Ibaka and Evan Fournier, the Magic offense found some rhythm, while the defense showed some signs of improvement in stretches. Orlando’s offense got going in a big way, shooting a blazing 14-23 in the quarter, outscoring the Nuggets by 10, despite giving up 11-20 shooting to the visitors. Thanks to their hot quarter offensively, the Magic led by three, 95-92 heading into the fourth.
Holding a small lead into the fourth quarter, the Magic struggled in the early portion of the quarter on the offensive end. While the offense struggled, the defense found some footing against a slightly slowing Denver offense. The two sides went back and forth for much of the quarter, either neither being able to take a lead bigger than five before the Nuggets made a pair of three-pointers to take a six point lead with just over three minutes to play. With the team running out of gas, the Magic were unable to finish off the Nuggets.
Danilo Gallinari led the way for the Nuggets, finishing with 21 on the night. Kenneth Faried added 19 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, while fellow big man Jusuf Nurkic finished with 17. Will Barton ended the night with 16 of his own. Nikola Jokic and Hernangomez added 14 off the bench.
Fournier led six Magic players in double figures, finishing with 24. Ibaka added 22, with Jeff Green scoring 17 off the bench. Bismack Biyombo added 12 points, despite playing with an injured shoulder. Aaron Gordon scored 11, and D.J. Augustin added 10 on the night.