Orlando Magic vs. Denver Nuggets: Game Preview

Franz Wagner
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO – Building consistency and winning habits is a difficult task for any young team. Developing those traits amidst injuries, the resulting adjustments to the lineup, and an arduous game schedule is even more challenging.

But that’s exactly the task ahead for the Orlando Magic.

The Magic (4-18) return to Amway Center to face the Denver Nuggets (10-10) at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday, their lone home contest sandwiched between a two-game road stint and a five-game West Coast trip.

Orlando is coming off a highly contested matchup in Philadelphia where it put on display the tenets its head coach has been preaching since training camp. Wendell Carter Jr. played tremendous defense on Joel Embiid. Mo Bamba threw a block party, notching a career-high six blocks. And rookies Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs put on display all the characteristics that made them worthy of being top-10 picks in the 2021 NBA Draft.

However, Suggs went down with a fractured right thumb late in the fourth quarter and the Magic’s comeback effort from a 16-point deficit came up short against the Sixers.

“Their ability to keep fighting back no matter what the score was,” Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley said of his team. “We didn’t make a lot of shots early, but we gave ourselves a chance because we sat down and guarded. … And we never stopped fighting.”

Wagner, the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft, continued his impressive rookie campaign. With Suggs out for the near future, Orlando will need more performances like the one it got out of the University of Michigan alum in Philadelphia as it looks to snap a seven-game losing skid before heading out on a challenging West Coast trip.

The 6-foot-10 forward not only flashed his playmaking ability, partially playing a point-forward role, but also his assertiveness. Wagner was aggressive from the second quarter on, notching 27 points, six rebounds and five assists.

“Just being able to make the right reads, the right plays,” said Mosley of the 20-year-old. “He goes in the lane looking for the pass and then he just reads the defense and finds a way to get to the lane and finish. Talking about being aggressive more and looking to make the right play. I’m just really proud of the way he played.”

IN AND OUT: The Magic are expected to get back Cole Anthony, who’s missed the last six games with a sprained right ankle, against the Nuggets. His presence will be of the utmost importance with Suggs out for the time being. The team got some positive news in that regard on Tuesday after it was determined that Suggs would not need surgery. Instead, the versatile combo guard will be evaluated every two weeks to gauge healing and his return will ultimately depend on the healing of the bone.

Michael Carter-Williams (left ankle; health and safety protocols), Markelle Fultz (left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee), and E’Twaun Moore (left knee sprain) also all remain out for Orlando.

For Denver, JaMychal Green (left elbow sprain) is questionable, while P.J. Dozier (left ACL), Bones Hyland (health and safety protocols), Jamal Murray (left knee), Michael Porter Jr. (low back), and Austin Rivers (health and safety protocols) are all out.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Coach let me handle the ball a little bit more (on Monday) and I just tried to attack. When I see that drop (coverage) try to make plays. A couple of times, I took a couple of bad shots, but I think for the most part (me) being aggressive helps us out there. Obviously, I wish we finished the game a little bit better, but I think for the most part being aggressive out there helps us.” – Wagner on his performance Monday against the Sixers

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Eric Spyropoulos, who covers the team for Nuggets.com. He was kind enough to answer three questions about Denver prior to its matchup with Orlando.

Savage: “Aaron Gordon, who was sent to Denver in a trade-deadline deal last season, returns to Orlando tonight. What have you seen from A.G. this season?”

Spyropoulos: “He’s had probably the most ideal season that the Nuggets’ front office and probably even fans hoped and expected when they traded for him. Obviously, on the defensive end, he’s become their primary wing or perimeter defender guarding the likes of Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, Paul George, (other) forwards and he’s done a really good job there. That’s been a big reason why a couple of weeks ago the Nuggets’ defense was really good. They’ve slipped off a little bit over the last couple of weeks. On the offensive end, he’s been having one of his most, if not the most, efficient season of his career. Mainly, picking his spots from three when he’s open, and more importantly, finishing around the rim at an elite rate. He’s playing a little bit more with the ball in his hands. The Nuggets have had a lot of injuries. And he’s been thriving on both ends of the floor. So, probably the most ideal start to the season that Nuggets fans and the front office could have expected.”

Savage: “The Nuggets were dealt some tough injury news when it was announced that Michael Porter Jr. would miss the remainder of the season. How do you expect Denver to compensate for his absence?”

Spyropoulos: “Yeah. Michael Porter is out for the rest of the season. Obviously, they started without Jamal Murray. P.J. Dozier has been lost for the season. Even smaller absences like Nikola Jokic, who missed five games (and) Will Barton, who’s missed some games. It’s mainly just a team effort. Obviously, when Jokic is in the lineup, he’s able to help out the support players by making things a lot easier for them by creating open looks and having them cut off of him for easy baskets. But a lot of it has come down to Jokic shouldering even more of a burden offensively this season, Aaron Gordon stepping up his role, (and) Will Barton having a really strong bounce-back season as the team’s kind of secondary option on offense. Over the past couple of weeks, guys like Jeff Green have stepped up a little bit more and played a lot more. But it’s really more of a team effort. Obviously, Jokic and the offense built around him allows the Nuggets to plug and play people. But they do miss Porter’s elite shooting and that force (that he is). The team has kind of struggled from beyond the arc throughout this season.

Savage: “It’s hard to imagine, but Nikola Jokic perhaps looks even more impressive than he did during last season’s MVP run. What have you seen out of the big man’s game this season?”

Spyropoulos: “The scoring has reached basically unstoppable levels. His efficiency is up even though his usage is also up – which is that rare combination to do both at the same time. He’s hitting more three-pointers. He’s finishing. He’s shooting even better inside the arc. The assists are down, but I think a lot of that comes down to Nuggets players not being able to hit threes, especially. But his scoring has reached another level. His rebounding has increased by (almost three rebounds per game) this season. He has taken this larger load offensively, especially as a scorer, but has also responded with improved efficiency. He’s probably become, outside of Kevin Durant, the most unstoppable scorer in the league because he can do it from all three levels on the floor.”


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