Miller-to-McGee connection helps Nuggets run past Orlando
Corey Brewer had little doubt when he tossed a lob high over the rim and into JaVale McGee’s general vicinity.
He knew what most Nuggets fans are quickly beginning to realize: It’s nearly impossible to throw an alley oop too high for McGee.
In an apparent attempt to make “The sky’s the limit” a literal phrase, McGee converted six lob passes for dunks Sunday night as the Nuggets beat the Orlando Magic 101-74 in their regular-season home finale at Pepsi Center.
Each dunk seemed to be more impressive than the last, and McGee capped his 17-point night by slamming home Brewer’s pass that initially looked destined for the front row.
“I threw it to the roof,” Brewer said. “With a guy like that, as athletic as he is, if you get it up there, he’s going to go catch it. I knew he could get it. Top of the backboard; that’s about the right height.”
Seven-feet tall with a 7-6 armspan and a 31-inch vertical leap, McGee is developing a connection with his teammates, particularly point guard Andre Miller.
Five of Miller’s 11 assists Sunday came on passes to McGee, including two that helped the Nuggets build a double-digit lead in the final 72 seconds of the third quarter.
“I love the way Andre throws it up there because he knows I can go and get it,” McGee said. “I definitely was gifted with athleticism, so I love playing above the rim.”
Acquired by the Nuggets from the Washington Wizards on March 15, McGee has the potential to be an X-factor when the Western Conference playoffs begin April 28 or 29. There is little defense against an alley oop pass three feet above the rim, particularly when Miller throws it with such accuracy.
“The lob might usually have an 18-inch by 36-inch window,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “JaVale’s is 4-feet by 4 feet. It’s pretty amazing.”
As part of his aerial show, McGee added eight rebounds and three blocked shots in his 24 minutes as the Nuggets (36-28) continued their push for the No. 6 seed in the West. They lead seventh-place Dallas (36-29) by a half-game, but the Mavericks hold the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the regular-season series.
Dallas plays its final game Thursday at Atlanta, while the Nuggets close with back-to-back road games at Oklahoma City on Wednesday and at Minnesota on Thursday.
“We’re still trying to get up the ladder,” Karl said.
After clinching a playoff berth Saturday in Phoenix, the Nuggets were unable to pull away from Orlando early on Sunday.
The game was tied 44-44 at halftime, but Denver clamped down defensively and outscored the Magic 57-30 over the final 24 minutes. The Nuggets closed the game on a 22-3 run against an Orlando team that lost to Utah in overtime 24 hours earlier.
“It had nothing to do with running out of gas,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We ran out of focus and we ran out of competitiveness. That’s what we ran out of.”
With a deep rotation, the Nuggets hardly looked winded, and Karl was able to give veteran forward Al Harrington the night off to rest his ailing right knee. Harrington, who has a torn meniscus, had played every game this season.
That honor now belongs solely to Miller, who plans to play the final two games despite a sore shoulder.
“I’ll probably play less minutes, but I haven’t been playing a lot of minutes this year anyway,” Miller said. “Get a couple days rest and be ready to go.”
NOTES: McGee became the 10th Nuggets player to lead or tie for the team lead in points this season. Danilo Gallinari also had 17 against Orlando … Denver rookie Kenneth Faried left the game briefly after landing awkwardly on his left knee early in the third quarter. He came back and finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds for his 11th double-double; the Nuggets are 10-1 in those games … Denver swept the season series from Orlando for the first time since the 1991-92 season and finished with a 16-2 record against Eastern Conference teams … Playing in front of the eighth sellout crowd this season, the Nuggets capped a 20-13 season at Pepsi Center … Denver attempted a season-low 11 free throws and had only nine fast-break points, but they held a 64-24 advantage in points in the paint. Orlando’s 74 points were also a season-low for a Nuggets opponent.