Recap: Denver Nuggets 111, Orlando Magic 94 | Magic Basketball

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Dec 14

Recap: Denver Nuggets 111, Orlando Magic 94

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

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When the Orlando Magic embarked on their four-game road trip to the West Coast, it was said that the players would learn a lot about themselves and as a whole, they’d figure out where they stand vis-a-vis the rest of the NBA elite — the Los Angeles Lakers, the Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics, and the San Antonio Spurs.

After the Magic went 1-3 against the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, and Denver Nuggets, one thing has become clear.

Orlando isn’t an elite team or a championship contender.

Something is missing from the roster. Against the Blazers, the Magic couldn’t score if their lives depended on it. Against the Jazz, it was a lack of defense. Against the Clippers, after a brilliant first quarter against one of the worst teams in the league, complacency and consistency cropped up as ever-too-familiar issues.

Against the Nuggets? There was little to no defense present from Orlando but more importantly, there was a lack of mental toughness and fight that has plagued the roster since the season began. When the going got tough in the fourth quarter, the Magic wilted and displayed a body language that emitted negativity.

Denver was able to defeat Orlando by the score of 111-94 in a game that was close for 42 minutes. After Vince Carter made a three-pointer at the 6:05 mark of the fourth quarter to pull the Magic’s deficit to one point at 92-91, the Nuggets went on a 19-3 run to turn a competitive game into a blowout. Carmelo Anthony led the way for Denver, putting up 35 points and 11 rebounds. Anthony got plenty of support from his supporting cast, with five players for the Nuggets scoring in double-figures. Orlando was led by J.J. Redick, who had a career-high 29 points on 12 shots — an excellent performance. Dwight Howard finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds, and two blocks. Carter chipped in with 18 points. Unfortunately for the Magic, it was a three-man show offensively between Redick, Howard, and Carter. No one else for Orlando was able to make a significant impact on the game, at least on the offensive side of the ball. The defense?

That was a different story altogether.

Because Quentin Richardson and Mickael Pietrus were unable to play due to injuries, that forced Rashard Lewis and Carter to have the dual responsibility of slowing down Anthony. Needless to say, Anthony did whatever he wanted on offense and abused whoever stood in his way.

If it was Lewis, Anthony was too quick for him on the perimeter. If it was Carter, Anthony was too strong for him in the low post.

It was a merciless performance from Anthony and to be honest, there was nothing the Magic could do about it. With the two best perimeter defenders sitting in street clothes, Orlando was at Anthony’s mercy and he made them pay.

Yes, Denver got excellent contributions from their role players but it was Anthony that had his fingerprints all over this game.

As for the Magic, the offense was humming for three quarters due to a combination of great execution and porous defense from the Nuggets. Redick had a field day, partly due to his ability to score points in a variety of ways. Whether it was in pick and rolls, catch-and-shoot situations, screen and curls, it was a beautiful display from Redick and perfectly accentuated his growth as a player in the NBA. No longer is Redick a spot-up shooter; he’s a scorer. Big difference.

Howard was great, as usual. With Brandon Bass in the starting lineup at power forward and Marcin Gortat manning the position as well, Howard got a lot of his buckets in 3-out/2-in offensive sets. Righty and lefty hooks, as well as the occasional jumpshot and tip-in on offensive rebounds, were the main ingredients that parlayed into Howard’s 21-point performance offensively. Though it should be noted that Nene Hilario did an effective of pestering Howard at times.

All in all, Orlando’s loss accentuated everything that’s wrong with the team.

Jameer Nelson? Four points. There’s no question that, at his best, Nelson is an All-Star caliber point guard but unfortunately the issue of consistency is something that will always plague him. The irony is that Nelson’s greatest criticism — his passing ability — has been a strength for him this year. For Nelson, it’s his inability to score at will that has haunted him as the Magic have struggled.

Carter? Yeah, he had 18 points but he couldn’t get Orlando a basket when they needed it the most in the fourth quarter. Neither could Nelson. Want to know why the Magic continue to get bombarded with Gilbert Arenas rumors? Look no further than the performances of Nelson and Carter against Denver. It’s a valid criticism and the reason Orlando is a second tier team.

Lewis? For three seasons, Lewis was the consummate teammate and did everything he could to help the Magic win games. This year? Lewis’ performance has fallen off a cliff and he’s become the albatross everyone feared he’d be when he was offered a maximum contract during the offseason in 2008. Lewis’ decline as a player is another reason why Orlando isn’t as good as they should be.

Is this an overreaction? No, it’s not. It’s a harsh reality.

Is it time to panic? No, it’s not. It’s time to be honest.

Between now and February when the trade deadline nears, general manager Otis Smith is going to have to make one of the most important decisions of his career that could affect whether or not Howard continues his tenure with the Magic.

Howard is playing the best basketball of his career and the last thing that Smith can afford is to waste his prime.

Ask the Cleveland Cavaliers.

9 comments
Billy (slickw143)
Billy (slickw143)

Your last statement very well could be true. I do think they need to consolidate some of their assets into a playmaker for the second unit, but I don't know if it'll happen. We'll see.

Billy (slickw143)
Billy (slickw143)

Let's be real here though and dismiss the Milwaukee and Atlanta games because of the virus. We lost 3 games to 3 playoff teams in the West on the road. And two of those games we lost because our defense fell apart, which I would look at more as an outlier than anything else. I mean, c'mon, we *still* have a defensive efficiency under 100 for the year. Against Denver, our two best chances at defending Melo were both out, and he roasted us. Utah is, in my mind, maybe the worst match-up for us in the entire league, because we cannot do anything with Deron Williams, not to mention they have multiple skilled big men and good perimeter defenders.

Teams go through funks every year, just as I assure you Boston will, and San Antonio will, and LA already has. It's the regular season, and for a team that's been to the ECF two years in a row, I don't think it's a big deal. Last January we were all panicking, talking about Vince being a bench player and whether Jameer would ever be anything close to his All-Star form and etc. etc. I said then, get back to me in February, and I'll say it again.

Ferric
Ferric

I have trouble following this Magic team because I'm continuously angry that they keep losing to inferior teams. I think after this stretch of basketball I can lower my expectations and just enjoy following team.

Jrod
Jrod

Can you quit saying "at his best, Nelson is an all-star pg", please? Not only is it completely meaningless, it tends to mislead. It's like saying 'at his best, Redick is a 29 point per game scorer' or 'at his best, Bernie Maddof was an honest man.' It's just stupid. When a comment like that is preceded by "there's no question", it makes me want to bang my head against the table.

And what huge decision does Otis Smith have to make? What championship level #2 option, who is a go-to crunch time scorer is available for some combination of Gortat, Anderson/Bass, Redick (who would have to consent), Q, Jameer, Carter, Pietrus, Duhon, draft picks, etc? And if that player is available for what the Magic have to offer, how is it in any way a question? The fact is the Magic do not have the roster flexibility to bring in a championship caliber #2, which is what they lack. And no, the most important decision Otis had to make relative to utilizing the next 2-3 years of Dwight's prime has already been made. It was in 2007 when he gambled away his long term roster flexibility to hand Lewis an absurd contract. Why Lewis was given the extra year in a sign and trade was and is inexplicable. Brilliant move by Otis to target the guy, but a disaster in terms of long term planning.

Billy (slickw143)
Billy (slickw143)

I don't understand this. Just before the virus tore through the team, the Magic had won 10 of 11, only losing a very hard-fought game in San Antonio, beaten the Heat, destroyed Chicago in Chicago, and were playing like title contenders. We have a bad West Coast road trip with tired/sick/injured players, lose to some good teams, and now they're not even an elite team?

Does anyone remember what happened last year? The same exact thing happened, and then the Magic promptly went 33-7 over the last 40 games of the season. They're playing poorly now, but to me, it's really close to last year with the exception of Dwight playing like a monster when last year he really faded during our swoon. We've had a string of games where we kept failing at a different aspect, leading to a loss. Again, same thing as last year's 2-7 stretch. The fact that they've had good defensive games with poor offensive showings and vice versa means they're perfectly capable of playing well on both ends of the floor. It's just a matter of getting back in rhythm and doing it.

All of that said, I believe the same way I did before the year started that it's going to be tough to win a title, but getting deep in the playoffs is still entirely possible. I would still like to see a trade to consolidate some of our assets into a better player, but nothing major unless it's Chris Paul (which won't happen with the NBA owning the team). Just trade Bass and someone else for a solid role player that can be a playmaker for the second unit.

saywutt
saywutt

As i have been saying for over a year Rashard is the problem, no one wanted to listen they all made excuses ohhh he is the 4th option or oh its not Lewis its Nelson of his height, its Carter cuz of his age or his lack of attacking the basket, regardless of Carters lack of attacking the basket or his game slowing down, regardless of Nelsons height or lack of defending taller guards they still produce on offense, Lewis is a bum who does not produce in any catagory! he cant score, he cant defend, he cant rebound, he doesnt take charges, he doesnt steal the ball, he doesnt attack the basket, he doesnt block can someone please tell me what he can actually do other than hit a 3 when he is wiiiiiiiide open if he ever is! Lewis the only player we can prob get for trading for Lewis is Arenas and i tell you right now i will take Arenas and a half a bag of chips and a day old flat soda can for Lewis!

Jax502
Jax502

Great article! While most articles and Magic blogs I've read were busy explaining and making excuses as to why the Magic lost, this article really hit it! "Orlando isn’t an elite team or a championship contender." I'm so disappointed especially with Lewis. I mean 8 points, 2 rebounds and 1 assist in 33 minutes. If he's a bench player those numbers would've been fine. But he's a starter and an All-Star for goodness sake! Not to mention his salary is what's taking up most of our teams cap space. I love Sweet-Lew but man, he looks like an old man out there. I 110% agree he's one of the major reasons why Orlando isn't performing well this season.

McLean Cromer
McLean Cromer

whew.....honesty at its finest...good article!