Denton's Dish: Magic vs. Nuggets (4/1/12)



By John Denton
April 1, 2012


ORLANDO – Dwight Howard just might have locked up an unprecedented fourth consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award on Sunday night. The problem for the Orlando Magic, however, was that the six-time all-star center didn’t play in the game.

Howard missed the game because of lingering back spasms, and the Magic felt the loss of their defensive stopper in a big way against the high-powered Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets repeatedly gashed the Magic defensively all night and held off a late Orlando charge in a rare 104-101 victory at the Amway Center.

Denver shot 55.6 percent from the field – easily the highest percentage of the season against the Magic. Nuggets coach George Karl said when he heard Howard wasn’t playing he thought it was an April Fool’s joke, but he was delighted that his team avoided the All-NBA center.

``You just can’t fill those shoes when you are missing your best player and the best defensive player in the league,’’ said Magic point guard Jameer Nelson, who scored 27 points and handed out five assists.

The loss of Howard and the loss to Denver was a third straight defeat for Orlando (32-21). The Nuggets, who host the Magic in Denver on April 22, had lost 17 of the last 18 games in Orlando prior to Sunday.

But Denver (29-24) got a huge break 90 minutes before the game when Howard was scratched because of spasms in his lower back. It was just the eighth game in eight seasons that Howard has missed, and only three of those have been because of injuries.

``Dwight is the best defensive player in the league and obviously we missed him,’’ Magic guard J.J. Redick said. ``There is no Plan b when you’re not getting stops. You’re never going to win games if you think you are going to just outscore people.’’

Orlando’s two power forwards, Ryan Anderson and Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, did their best to fill the void left by Howard’s absence. Anderson scored 20 points and hit three 3-pointers, but badly sprained his ankle with 23.9 seconds remaining. (X-rays after the game were negative and the injury was deemed a sprain).

Davis played what head coach Stan Van Gundy called ``his best game since he’s been here’’ with 18 points and 16 rebounds, nine coming off the offensive glass.

Their work and Nelson’s attacking play kept the Magic close, and they had a chance to tie the game, but Jason Richardson could only get off a stumbling heave from halfcourt just before the buzzer sounded.

``I didn’t get a look at all,’’ Richardson said. ``I tried turning and taking another dribble and kind of stumbled. I felt like my leg got caught on one of their legs, but the ref saw something else. It’s like that sometimes.’’

Here is a look back at some of the key moments from Sunday night’s game from the Amway Center:


    MAGICAL MOMENTS

  • Davis played with the nastiness and toughness inside that the Magic were hoping for when they signed him before the season to a four-year, $26 million contract. He made six of 14 shots and got to the free throw line 11 times with six makes.

    And the Magic got 16 more field goal attempts than the Nuggets in large part because of Davis’ work on the offensive glass. His nine offensive rebounds were a career high, bettering his previous mark of six. His 16 boards were also a career high, topping the 14 he had with the Celtics.

    ``I know what I can do and everybody has seen what I can do,’’ Davis said. ``Me playing this type of level shouldn’t be a surprise. You forget where I came from and what I’ve done. I’ve played the game at a high level, been a part of some great teams and done some great things. So it’s about a comfort zone and I felt comfortable out there today.’’

  • Nelson continued his stellar play of late, getting almost anywhere on the floor that he wanted against a couple of good point guards in Ty Lawson and Andre Miller.

    Nelson made 11 of 21 shots and hit two 3-pointers. He also had two layups in the final minute to keep the Magic close and had a fiery moment in the huddle with Van Gundy with 1:47 to play.

    ``Our effort was great all night, but we’re not here for moral victories or pats on the back,’’ Nelson said.

    MAGIC MYSTERY

  • Richardson’s tripping and falling at the end of the game was a fitting end to a miserable night for the veteran shooting guard.

    The 11-year veteran made just three of 12 shots and missed all six of his 3-point shots, including the falling-down heave from midcourt to end the game. In his last nine games, Richardson has made just 25 of 75 shots (33.3 percent) and only eight of 38 (21 percent) from the 3-point line.

  • Howard’s absence was particularly noticeable in the first half when the Nuggets played to their strengths and repeatedly got to the rim for layups.

    Not having the three-time Defensive Player of the Year to protect the rim was felt in the first 24 minutes. The Nuggets shot 68.8 percent in the first quarter and made 15 of their first 21 shots (71.4 percent). Denver scored 10 points in the paint in the first half, most of them coming on layups from Ty Lawson (11 first-half points). Lawson finished with 25 points, while Aaron Afflalo had 22 and Miller chipped in 18 points.

    ``When you look at it, we couldn’t stop them at all,’’ Van Gundy said. ``We could not get a stop in any situation. It was a frustrating night. I’ve been saying it all along that we need to get a lot better defensively and tonight that was exposed. We need to do a lot of work. Our inability to keep guards out of the paint and play pick-and-roll defense has been a thorn in our side all year.’’

    MAGIC MOVES

  • On a positive note, the Magic turned the ball over just 12 times – their second-lowest total in the last nine games. The Magic had averaged 17 turnovers over the past eight games and their 12 second-half miscues played a huge role in Friday’s 100-98 loss to Dallas.

  • In the six games before Friday, Quentin Richardson had played an average of 19.8 minutes a game. But after making five of seven 3-pointers against Miami on March 18, Richardson made just one of 10 over the next five games. Richardson is apparently no longer in the rotation after not playing Friday or Sunday. He has been replaced by Earl Clark, who provides the Magic with a taller defender against bigger wing players.

  • Davis said he would be ready to fill in at either center or power forward if Howard or Anderson are out for an extended period of time because of their injuries.

    Sunday’s game was just his second start of the season and he said he’ll be comfortable starting at either slot.

    ``Collectively as a group we have to fight. It’s the end of the season, going down the stretch, and we’ve got to help each other out,’’ Davis said. ``It’s not one guy. We have to do it collectively as a team, down to the lowest-playing guy. Everybody has to fill their role now because we need it.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com

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