Denton: Magic Must Defy Statistical Improbability

By John Denton
Jan. 10, 2014

SACRAMENTO – It might not seem like it considering the middling records of the Sacramento Kings and the Denver Nuggets, but the Orlando Magic are in the midst of statistically the most difficult back-to-back set of games in the NBA.

Over the last six years of NBA action, a team playing on the road on the West Coast one night – against either the Lakers, Clippers, Warriors, Kings or Blazers – has won in Denver the next night just three times. According to Elias Sports Bureau, teams going from the Pacific Time Zone to Mountain Time Zone in Denver are just 3-21 on the second night in the past six seasons (2008-09 through 2013-14).

There is a combination of issues that factor into the lack of success going from the West Coast to Denver, ranging from the two-plus hour flight, the 45-minute bus ride from the airport, the loss of an hour on the clock and Denver’s famed 5,280-foot elevation above sea level. There’s also a sign just outside the visiting team’s locker room at Denver’s Pepsi Center that reads, ``Welcome to the Mile High City, Elevation 5,280 feet.’’

``Yeah, that’s a tough (back-to-back). Hopefully, we’ll be one of those (three to win in Denver),’’ said Magic guard Arron Afflalo, who played for the Nuggets for three seasons before he was traded to Orlando. ``Every game is individual, but numbers don’t lie. That (scenario) definitely has some type of effect, but you just have to fight through it.

The Magic were one of the three teams to win on the second night of a back-to-back while going from the West Coast to Denver. On Jan. 16, 2009, Orlando beat the Lakers in L.A. and then thumped the Nuggets in Denver a night later for a seventh consecutive victory.

Miami and Milwaukee are the only other teams to pull off the feat since the 2008-09 season. Whatever the reason – be it the altitude, the time change or the power of the Nuggets – it’s been almost impossible to win in Denver on the second night of a back-to-back.

``There is some literal meaning to (the difficulty of playing in Denver) because it is a higher altitude and the air is slightly thinner. But if you are a well-conditioned person or athlete you should be fine. We should be able to push through it.’’

Orlando’s charter plane was scheduled to fly out of Sacramento soon after the game. The team is expected to arrive at its hotel in Denver at approximately 3 a.m. local time.

ROOKIE RELATIONSHIPS: In the days, weeks and months leading up to last June’s NBA Draft, Magic rookie Victor Oladipo spent lots of time with others in his draft class and built what he said are life-long friendships.

Because of those bonds, Oladipo said he rarely misses a night of watching other NBA rookies play and he keeps a close eye on their production. He especially keeps up with Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams, Utah’s Trey Burke and Sacramento’s Ben McLemore – players he’s known since his college days at Indiana University.

``I’m aware when they are doing well and I watch a lot of basketball. When those guys are playing I’m definitely watching. It’s always good to see our draft class doing well,’’ Oladipo said. ``I grew a relationship with (McLemore) during the draft process. We did one workout together and grew a friendship. Plus, I love his story because he came from the bottom and now he’s here.’’

Oladipo came into Friday’s game ranked first in scoring (13.1 ppg.), assists (3.5 apg.) and minutes (30.5 mpg.), second in steals (1.49 spg.) and third in rebounds (4.4 rpg.) among all NBA rookies who have played enough games to qualify statistically.

THREE-GUARD LOOK: With center Nikola Vucevic likely out an extended period of time because of a concussion, the Magic have made alterations to their lineup that are likely to stick for the time being.

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn liked the way the ball moved and the offense flowed Wednesday night in Portland with guards Jameer Nelson, Afflalo and Oladipo on the floor together. He liked it so much that the trio started a second straight game Friday night in Portland.

On Wednesday, with the three guard on the floor and able to push the pace, Orlando had 21 assists on its 33 baskets and it ran for 12 points. Afflalo pumped in 22 points, while Oladipo repeatedly got to the rim for 14 points. And with help running the offense, Nelson played with more freedom and contributed 17 points, three 3-pointers and 10 assists.

``The game is evolving where the ability to have multiple players who can run the pick-and-roll and have versatility and athleticism on the floor, it’s crucial to success,’’ Vaughn said. ``So when we can get guys to bust-out dribble, get into transition and make plays and not depend on one player to make that play, it’s to our advantage.’’