Playing on the West Coast is hard. Playing the second game of a back-to-back against a rested team is difficult. Playing without your starting and back-up point guards is not easy.
Playing in a game where all of those circumstances come together is damn near impossible. It was too many obstacles for the Magic to overcome and the result was as expected, with Orlando getting routed by the Denver Nuggets, 125-107, on Saturday.
Shots were not falling early for the Magic, who started Shelvin Mack at point guard in place of Elfrid Payton, who sat out with a bothersome hamstring. The Nuggets, using meticulous ball movement, went on a 13-0 run to open a 35-16 lead in the first. If more evidence was needed that it was not going to be the Magic's night, Nikola Jokic provided it at the end of the first.
Even with Jonathan Isaac contesting, Jokic stepped back and drained a one-legged, high-arching corner three that drew nothing but net to give the Nuggets a 39-23 advantage.
Jamal Murray scored 16 of his career-high 32 points in the first quarter, including three of the Nuggets's seven made three-pointers in the opening quarter.
Shooting 57.8 percent from the field in the first half, including 50 percent from three after converting nine of 18 attempts, the Nuggets entered the break with a 70-47 lead. The Magic, who were outrebounded 28-14 in the first half, shot 42.2 percent in the half and connected on six of 19 three-point attempts.
The Magic have established themselves as a strong third-quarter team that adapts well to halftime adjustments. That wasn't the case last night after a jumper by Murray increased the lead to 25 and prompted Frank Vogel to call a timeout just 79 seconds into the third.
The Nuggets went on to build a 30-point lead.
The Magic's second unit chipped away at the lead, pulling within 13 after Jonathon Simmons drained a three and then converted 2-of-3 free throws to cut the lead to 104-91 with just under eight minutes left. Vogel briefly brought the starters back in but Orlando could get no closer.
Marreese Speights led the Magic with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Simmons and Evan Fournier each added 18. Aaron Gordon, who entered the game leading the league in three-point shooting, had 13 points and connected on one of five attempts from downtown. Mack finished with seven points, eight assists and no turnovers for the Magic, who shot 47.1 percent from the field, including 11 for 31 from three (35.5 percent).
Isaac suffered a sprained right ankle in the fourth after blocking a shot and landing awkwardly. He limped off the court and did not return.
In his career night, Murray made 6-of-9 threes for the Nuggets, which shot 52.9 percent overall from the field and converted 12 of 29 three-point attempts (41.4 percent). Will Barton, starting in place of Gary Harris, added 26 points. Jokic had 12 points and 17 rebounds.
For the Magic, who are now 2-1 in the second game of back-to-backs this season, it was their first loss to a Western Conference team after starting 4-0 with wins over San Antonio, Memphis, New Orleans and Phoenix.
Things won't get any easier for the Magic. In the third game of their West Coast trip they'll face the Golden State Warriors on Monday.