The Nuggets entered the game without their two best players, All-Star power forward Paul Millsap and up-and-coming center Nikola Jokic. The Magic were also banged up, taking the floor without wings Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier and Jonathan Isaac.
Still, the end result left a lot to be desired from the Magic faithful, as the team would falter down the stretch and get run out of the building by a Nuggets team without its biggest contributors.
The Nuggets have been awful on the road this season, compiling a record of 3-9 before Friday. They were winless on this current road trip and the owners a four-game road losing streak overall entering the game.
Defense, specifically, was a key issue for a Denver team that was allowing 112 points per game away from the Pepsi Center.
Despite all of this, the Nuggets held the Magic to 89 points on their home floor. Orlando shot 39 percent from the field and 23 percent from deep.
After leading by nine and limiting Denver to just 14 points in the first quarter, Orlando lost all semblance of flow on both ends, the offense stalled, and the wheels fell off.
This was due, in part to another significant injury. Magic forward Aaron Gordon went down hard midway through the third quarter and stayed lying face down for several minutes before being helped up. Initially, he just looked shaken up, but after badly missing a jumper, he would be taken out and evaluated. Eventually, Gordon was diagnosed with the concussion and ruled out for the game.
Without two of their top three scorers, and down 11 points at the time, any hopes of a Magic comeback left the floor with Gordon. With the Denver offense humming, the shorthanded Orlando squad couldn’t do much but watch as the fourth quarter went by unceremoniously.
When asked how the team would overcome their fourth injury to the active roster, Magic head coach Frank Vogel seemed a little unsure himself.
“We gotta play better, we gotta execute,” said coach Vogel, “we’re going to have five guys on the floor, you know, capable NBA players that are here for a reason and we gotta go out and execute offensively and defensively get the W.”
If there was a bright spot for the Magic, it was center Nikola Vucevic, who followed has now set season highs in rebounding in each of the last two games. Vucevic tied for the team lead with 21 points, adding 17 rebounds and blocking four shots for the second straight game.
Conversely, point guard Elfrid Payton had one of his worst games of the season – making only one two-point basket and shooting 3-of-10 overall for 11 points. Payton also notched six assists and a single turnover, but his effect on the game was minimal once the team got behind.
The Magic (11-16) won’t have long to look for answers as they fly to Atlanta tonight to take on a Hawks (5-19) team tomorrow that they narrowly beat in overtime on Wednesday. The Hawks have been off since that game.