Throughout the course of an NBA regular season, a team is going to run into struggles and adversity, especially on the road. For the Denver Nuggets, cold shooting and inconsistent defense sunk them against the young Orlando Magic, which led to a 108-103 defeat.
Denver was certainly engaged defensively to begin Wednesday’s game, as the Nuggets jumped out to an 15-4 lead through the first six minutes of action. Denver’s offense wasn’t lights out to begin the contest, which allowed Orlando to stay in the game despite the early shooting struggles. However, the Nuggets ultimately built a 29-15 advantage after the opening frame, as the Magic finished the quarter 6-of-22 (27.3 percent) from the field.
As the two second units battled it out for each team, Orlando slightly reduced Denver’s lead to begin the second quarter and eventually cut the deficit to 10 points with just over seven minutes remaining in the first half. As the majority of Denver’s starters checked back in, the Nuggets built the lead back up to 14 late in the frame, which ultimately led to a 63-47 advantage at the break.
A 12-3 run from the Magic to begin the second half cut Denver’s lead down to 66-59 as Orlando continued to attack the basket with success. Just three minutes through the third quarter, Orlando had already scored 40 points in the paint, which helped make up for the team’s struggles from downtown. Things didn’t much better for the Nuggets throughout the remainder of the quarter, as they saw their lead cut down to just four points late in the frame, which ultimately proved to be the margin at the end of quarter at 83-79.
Orlando continued to slowly chip away at the deficit, with several trips to the free-throw line cutting Denver’s lead down to just one at 89-88 with just over eight minutes remaining. Unlike in the first half, the Nuggets weren’t able to regain momentum once the starters checked back in, as Orlando tied the game at 101 with three minutes remaining. Orlando went on a 5-2 run over the closing minutes to grab a three-point lead, and a final attempt from Will Barton with two seconds remaining didn’t fall, securing the win for the Magic.
Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s loss.
Both teams lived in the paint
Considering the struggles both teams have had from beyond the arc this season, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to learn that both offenses focused on attacking inside the arc. After the two teams combined for seven made 3-pointers in the first half, that number only slightly grew to 16 at the final buzzer.
On the other hand, Orlando and Denver combined for 104 points in the paint, with the Magic winning that battle decisively 66-38. Interestingly enough, neither team had much of an advantage on the offensive glass, with both teams combining for just two offensive rebounds.
Active defense kept Denver in the game
Wednesday’s game was not exactly sight to behold, as a healthy mixture of fouls and turnovers prevented both teams from finding a rhythm on the offensive end.
Despite some slippage on the defensive end of the floor in recent weeks, the Nuggets were locked in on the perimeter, as they held Orlando to 6-of-27 from beyond the arc and ultimately forced 13 turnovers, which directly led to 12 points for their offense.
On a night in which the Nuggets couldn’t find a rhythm from deep and had their own struggles taking care of the ball, it was timely defense (especially in the first quarter), that allowed Denver to even have a chance to pull out the road win.
One area the Nuggets will want to clean up in Saturday’s game against the Knicks will be the team’s foul trouble, as they committed 19 Wednesday night.
Nnaji impressed off the bench
Even though JaMychal returned from injury Wednesday night, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone still opted to give Zeke Nnaji some run on the second unit against Orlando.
The sophomore big man ultimately saw 18 minutes of action (with several of them coming alongside Green) and he certainly made the most of them. Nnaji finished with nine points (3-of-3 from the field, including 2-of-2 from deep) and also added a block on the defensive end.
If Nnaji can continue to defend effectively and knock down 3-pointers at an above-average clip, he will certainly make a compelling case for more minutes in the frontcourt rotation.
Denver is back in action Saturday afternoon against the New York Knicks (11 a.m. MT).