Denver Nuggets 91, Orlando Magic 87: Three takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

It may not have been pretty, but a win is a win. In a back-and-forth defensive battle, the Denver Nuggets snapped their two-game losing streak with a 91-87 win on the road against the Orlando Magic. The Nuggets got to the free-throw line often and held Orlando to 43 percent shooting from the field in the victory.

“Coming off our loss in New Orleans, we wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouth and come out focused," Nuggets guard Monte Morris said. "We knew Orlando was going to give us their best shot.”

The two teams battled to a draw in the opening five minutes of the game. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris combined to score all of Denver’s first 14 points, but the Magic closed the quarter on a 12-3 run to take a 26-17 lead after one. Murray finished with 10 points in the frame, as did Nikola Vucevic for the Magic.

The Magic extended the lead to eleven early in the second quarter before several of Denver’s starters returned to the floor and got the team back into the game. The Nuggets tightened up their defense throughout the quarter, as Orlando scored just 19 points in the frame, which allowed Denver to cut the lead down with multiple trips to the free throw line. Denver shot 10-of-12 from the charity stripe in the quarter. However, Orlando went on a mini run to end the first half, which ended with a 45-40 deficit for the Nuggets.

Although Nikola Jokić knocked down two consecutive 3-pointers to open the second half, Orlando was able to withstand the initial comeback attempt and extended the lead to eight points. The Nuggets responded with an 13-2 run to take their first lead of the night with just over four minutes remaining in the quarter. The ball began to move more in the quarter as players looked to make aggressive cuts towards the rim. For the second quarter in a row, Denver held the Magic to under 20 points in a quarter as the Nuggets took a 69-63 lead into the final frame.

A 13-8 run over the first half of the fourth quarter brought Orlando back within one-point as Denver’s second unit struggled to maintain the momentum build to end the third quarter. After both teams brought their starters back in, it was a back-and-forth affair to end the game as the teams continued to trade timely baskets.

When Denver needed its star players to come up in the clutch, they did exactly that. Jokić hit a turnaround fading jumper and Murray followed it up with a floater to give the Nuggets a five-point lead with just over one-minute remaining. The Nuggets were able to withstand the last effort from Orlando to end their brief road trip with a victory.

“I think we were more aggressive (in the second half)," Jokić said. "We did a better job in taking shots when we were open. It’s a good win for us.”

Here are some takeaways from Denver’s win:

Offense continues to search for a rhythm

Once again, Denver’s offense wasn’t able to consistently generate quality shot attempts or move the ball effectively enough to breakdown the defense. The Nuggets shot just 37 percent overall and 32.1 percent from beyond the arc on Saturday.

Now, Orlando must be given credit for their defensive effort, which is the hallmark of their team. The Magic have several lengthy defenders that can disrupt the passing lanes and challenge shots around the rim, which certainly impacted Denver’s offense.

“They’re a very good defensive team, we have to give credit where it’s due," Morris said. "We just tried to do our best. But even though we were able to come out on top, we can always be better.”

However, the Nuggets have long been known as an elite offensive squad that thrives on ball and player movement. The third quarter offered a glimpse of Denver’s typical style of play, as the ball was moving around the court and players looked to cut to the rim.

Throughout the first six games of the season, the ideal level of offensive execution hasn’t been reached as players continue to work their way into a groove. The silver lining for Denver is that it is still early in the season and with two home games spaced out throughout the upcoming week, there will be time to iron out the kinks on the offensive end.

Free-throw shooting makes a difference

Although Denver struggled to make shots from the field, there was a noticeable focus to attack the rim and capitalize on some mistakes from Orlando’s defenders. The result was a big night at the charity stripe for the Nuggets, who finished 28-of-39 from the free throw line. The 39 attempts marked the highest in a game this season for Denver, who used the free throw line to stabilize the offense and help get their defense set. Orlando finished just 7-of-11 from the line.

Given how Denver’s offense relies on player movement and the desire to generate paint 3-pointers (when a player gets into the paint before kicking it out to an open shooter), there should be an emphasis put on getting to the free throw line moving forward.

Nuggets’ defense stifles the Magic

While Orlando isn’t known as an offensive juggernaut, Denver’s defense stepped up in the final three quarters of the game to help get the team back on a winning track. Orlando scored a combined 61 points over the final three quarters and shot just 43 percent for the game (including 20.7 percent from beyond the arc).

"We did a really good job at the end of the game," Jokić said. "They were chasing the three, but we did a good job (preventing that). The aggressiveness (on defense) was different tonight."

When the offense isn’t flowing, it will often come down to how well the defense executes, and on Saturday, Denver’s defense was elite and drove the victory.

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