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Denver Nuggets @ Orlando Magic

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In a matchup of two of the best teams in basketball (and two of last season’s NBA Final Four), the Orlando Magic will host the Denver Nuggets on Sunday evening. The Magic bounced back from a tough loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday when they defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 106-97. The Nuggets had previously lost three games in a row before Carmelo Antony’s buzzer beating 18-footer took down the Toronto Raptors 97-96 on Friday night.

The Nuggets and the Magic met back on January 18th in Denver. The Nuggets absolutely dominated the second half and won 115-97. In Orlando’s defense, they were on the second night of a back-to-back on a west coast road trip and were without starting Guard Vince Carter.

Basketball Stats

The 48-25 Nuggets are currently tied for second in the Western Conference with the Dallas Mavericks, who they will square off with on Monday night. The Magic have the second best record in the Eastern Conference at 51-22. Denver has struggled on the road this season, posting a record of just 18-19 away from the Pepsi Center while the Magic are 29-7 at Amway Arena.

Tip-off from the Am is scheduled for 6:00 pm EST. Surprisingly; the game will not be aired nationally, but will be shown locally by Sun Sports. As always, if you can’t watch the game, you can listen to it locally on WDBO AM 580 and in Spanish on WONQ AM 1030.

The Nuggets will be without Renaldo Balkman (strained back) and Kenyon Martin (left knee tendinitis).

The Magic will still be without Mickael Pietrus due to a sprained left ankle.

Both Vince Carter (sprained ankle) and Jameer Nelson (bruised thumb) will play.

The Line: Orlando – 5.5

Starters:

Denver Nuggets

Johan Petro
Nene
Carmelo Anthony
Arron Afflalo
Chauncey Billups

Orlando Magic

Dwight Howard
Rashard Lewis
Matt Barnes
Vince Carter
Jameer Nelson

Back on January 15th, Orlando kept their game against Denver close in the first half before their tired legs set in and the Nuggets dominated the second half to come away with a 115-97 victory.

The Nuggets bottled up Dwight Howard, who scored just 8 points on 1-of-7 shooting. Howard did manage to grab 13 rebounds and block three shots, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

The only starter that really came to play was Matt Barnes, who scored 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony scored 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting while noted Magic killed Chauncey Billups scored 24 points and dished out five assists.

Denver’s offense has been fantastic. They score 107.2 points per game and are second in the league in offensive rating (112.1).

The Nuggets are led by MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony, who is scoring 28.9 points per game on 46.2% shooting. Anthony, who also averages 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, is one of the league’s most versatile scorers. Denver Point Guard Chauncey Billups scores 19.8 points per game and dishes out 5.7 assists per game.

Anthony has averaged 27.6 points per game on 48.0% shooting against the Magic in his career while “Mr. Big Shot,” Billups, has averaged 15.7 points and 5.7 assists per game in his career against the Magic.

Sixth man J.R. Smith is Denver’s third leading scorer (15.3 points per game) and really dictates how well the Nuggets are going to play. You know what you’re going to get from Anthony and Billups, but when Smith is on, the Nuggets are nearly impossible to stop.

Defensively, the Nuggets give up 102.5 points per game and rank just 15th in defensive rating (107.2).

Both Rashard Lewis (33 games, 17.7 points per game on 46.7% shooting, 5.9 rebounds per game) and especially Vince Carter (19 games, 25.8 points per game on 45.9% shooting, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game) have been excellent against the Nuggets during their careers.

Without Kenyon Martin, the Magic should have better success on offense and on the boards this time around. Nene is having a good season, averaging 13.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, but still shouldn’t be much of a match for Howard.

The Magic should have some trouble stopping the Nuggets, but they should have a very good game offensively.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and a contributor at NFL Mocks and Sir Charles In Charge. Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Twitter to follow him daily and you can get the HTD app here).