(Boulder-CO) This game was like a bad episode of the Twilight Zone. In the early goings you didn’t really understand what was going on and towards the end you were disinterested in the outcome. That’s exactly how I would describe the Nuggets as they conceded, 106-88, to the Magic who continue to terrorize their opponents on the road where they are now 17-5.
The Nuggets shooting really struggled early as they connected on just 1-7 from the field to start the game. Then the big men decided to squabble. Nene and Dwight Howard decided to mix it up landing Nene his second and Howard his first on a double-foul that brought the Birdman off the bench with 8:04 remaining in the first. The Birdman then put two fouls on Dwight Howard prompting Superman to say the magic word to referee Mark Ayotte to get hit with a technical foul on his way to pine. The rest of the quarter was one you can chalk up to pure luck as Nuggets really didn’t play very well. Denver shot just 7-20 from the field, including 0-3 from downtown, and just 9-14 from the charity stripe. Starters Nene, J.R. Smith, and Chauncey Billups, were a combined 0-7 and Dahntay Jones didn’t attempt a shot in just six minutes due to picking up two quick fouls. However, thank goodness for the bench because Linas Kleiza (8), Chris Andersen (1), and Anthony Carter (4) were a combined 4-6 from the field as the Nuggets should have felt pretty lucky to be trailing the Magic by just three, 26-23, after the first twelve minutes of play.
In the second quarter the Nuggets Nation got reacquainted with an old friend. Renaldo Balkman saw his first playing time since he played two minutes on January 5th against the Pacers and he didn’t waste anytime making his presence known with a two-handed flush and the corkscrew dismount for an old school three-point play. Balkman’s dunk tied the game at 28 and his made free-throw gave the Nuggets their first lead. The rest of the quarter was a tug of war back and forth with eleven lead changes and 13 ties in total at the half after Nene and Howard each picked up their third fouls on back-to-back possessions. But the Nuggets former 20th overall pick in the 2004 draft, Jameer Nelson, played superb basketball and kept the Denver comeback from turning into much a lead as the half ended with the Nuggets up by the slimmest of margin, 48-47.
How the Nuggets were in the lead was an anomaly all in itself. Denver shot just 14-41 from the field in the first half, including a shoddy 2-7 from three. The Nuggets also had eleven turnovers, but surprisingly were out rebounding the Magic 27-18, but somehow, some way, Denver was actually in the lead despite playing one of their poorer halves of basketball.
Jameer Nelson scored 21 points in the half to lead all scorers and Linas Kleiza paced the Nuggets with 14 points off the bench. For the stat heads, not a single Nugget starter had a positive +/- (to be fair, Kenyon Martin was even, but J.R. Smith, Dahntay Jones, and Nene were each -6), while all Nuggets reserves were in the black.
Once the second half got underway the Magic pulled the three-point rabbit out of their hat and started to put the Nuggets away. Through two quarters, the Magic had only made 4-13 attempts from long range. In third quarter alone Orlando cashed in on four long distance bombs and none were as demoralizing than Hedo Turkoglu’s 30-foot turnaround to close out the third quarter with the Magic up by nine, 79-70.
The Nuggets offense in the second half looked awfully tired. Jumper after jumper, the Nuggets just couldn’t get any continuity going, there was a real lack of movement off the ball, and eventually as a team Denver just fizzled out in the fourth quarter. Part of the problems started with Denver not being able to crank up their fast break like they did in the first half. In fact, the Nuggets only scored three points in transition in the second half while being outscored 59-40 in total. The Magic’s long distance barrage didn’t stop in the fourth quarter either. The fourth opened up with Rashard Lewis and Courtney Lee hitting back-to-back triples and Hedo Turkglu pu the nail in the coffin with another late as the Magic hit seven three’s in the second half and eleven in the game.
This loss was just bizarre from the opening tip. There was the first half that the Nuggets somehow managed to be leading by one at intermission despite it being one of the ugliest 24-minute stretches this season. Then the 40-point effort in the second half from Denver didn’t provide much resistance as the Magic repeatedly tickled the twine from the land of plenty. And then there’s this puzzling twist: The Magic bench only scored two points. That’s right, Anthony Johnson scored the only bucket off the bench while all five starters scored in double figures led by Hedo Turkoglu’s 31 points.
Linas Kleiza was a bright spot scoring a new season-high 26 points. Other nuggets of note were Johan Petro and Sonny Weems both making their Nuggets debut with 3:31 to play. Weems scored his first NBA bucket with 2:15 remaining and finished with four points. Johan Petro also recorded his first deuce as a Nugget by tipping in his own miss, but the Nuggets conceded, 106-88, without as much as peep while being outscored 27-18 in the fourth quarter.
Here’s another statistical outlier: J.R. Smith was -22 +/- in his 36 minutes on the floor. Ouch!
So, Denver concludes their longest home stand of the year 5-2 overall and lost Carmelo Anthony in the process. However, their 27-14 record at the midway point of the season is a sweet surprise for all of us in the Nuggets Nation. On the horizon for Denver is a stretch of the season that is going to either prove this team to be either a true contender or well disguised pretender. 15 of Denver’s next 23 games are on the road including an eight-game Eastern Conference road trip. Up next the Rockets in Houston on Monday in a rare afternoon game.