What If? Series: 2009 Orlando Magic vs. Denver Nuggets

Dwight Howard and Nene would have been an intriguing and testing battle if the Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets met in the 2009 NBA Finals. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Dwight Howard and Nene would have been an intriguing and testing battle if the Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets met in the 2009 NBA Finals. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) /
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Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic, Chris Andersen, Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets had a host of bigs to throw at Dwight Howard in 2009. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) /

Simulated Series

Why project what these matchups might look like when we can actually simulate it using WhatIfSports.com’s simulation engine.

Using the minute distribution from the conference finals series for the Denver Nuggets and the Finals minutes distribution for the Orlando Magic, I have constructed realistic-looking rotations to use in the simulation. And we can at least get a picture of how the series might have gone.

Game 1 — Magic 123, Nuggets 101 (ORL leads 1-0)

The Orlando Magic started off the Finals at the Amway Arena with a bang, outscoring the Denver Nuggets 35-26 in the first quarter and then closing with a 37-22 flourish in the fourth quarter.

Orlando’s 3-point shooting and versatility proved to be the difference. The Magic hit 11 of 25 3-pointers.

But it really was the Nuggets’ inability to downsize that won them this game. Rashard Lewis scored 26 points to go with 12 rebounds and eight assists. That meant him running circles around Kenyon Martin, dragged way too far out to the perimeter for his liking. And Linas Kleiza just is not going to cut it.

Orlando won the first salvo with a diverse offensive attack Denver could not keep up with. If the Nuggets win this series, they will not get the sweep.

Game 2 — Nuggets 117, Magic 109 (Series Tied 1-1)

The thing about physical teams is they can find their way to the foul line and that can be the great equalizer. It was in this game for sure. Denver went 29 for 39 from the foul line to help break the Magic’s 3-point advantage and pull away for the win to even the series before heading to Denver for the next three games.

The Magic led 84-79 after three quarters, but Chauncey Billups took over in the middle of the fourth quarter. He scored nine points and dished out two assists in a 14-6 run to take control of the game. Billups gave the Nuggets the lead for good to start that run at 99-98 with five minutes to play.

If the first two games of the series proved anything, it was that this series will go as far as these two matchup advantages go — Rashard Lewis and Chauncey Billups. Lewis was the difference in Game 1 and Billups was the difference in Game 2.

Carmelo Anthony was getting his points (32 points, 12 rebounds). Dwight Howard scored 21 points to go with 20 rebounds. But his five turnovers hurt as the Magic did not get their sharpest game from their best player.

Game 3 — Magic 126, Nuggets 91 (ORL leads 2-1)

Dwight Howard finally put his imprint on this series. And the Orlando Magic took homecourt advantage back and control of the series in the first Finals game at the Pepsi Center. He scored 33 points to go with 18 rebounds and five blocks to lead the Magic. This was finally his game and series.

Again, the Magic’s shooting proved to be too much. Orlando made 13 of 26 3-pointers, including four from Rashard Lewis. The Magic broke the Chauncey Billups hex, holding him to four points on 2-for-12 shooting.

The Magic built their lead in the second quarter, outscoring the Nuggets 40-23. Even Jameer Nelson got in on the fun with nine points and four assists in a respectable (and probably more normal) 14 minutes.

Do not worry, Rafer Alston recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists. And the Magic got the balanced contributions they needed to rout even the best teams in the league.

Game 4 — Nuggets 108, Magic 87 (Series tied 2-2)

One good blowout deserves another. The Magic made just 41.0-percent of their shots and 8 for 24 from beyond the arc. They have these games where the shots do not fall. That was part of the team’s strategy in a league that had not fully embraced the 3-point line yet.

The problem with that then is it becomes easier for the Nuggets to attack and swarm Howard on the inside. Like in the Game 2 loss, the Nuggets were able to force Howard into a lot of mistakes. He had four turnovers in the game, hiding his 21-point, 18-rebound, five-block effort.

With Carmelo Anthony scoring just 19 points, Nene stepped up with 17 points and that defense on Howard. The Nuggets were able to play their sometimes grimy game because of that.

Orlando needed to hit shots to stay in this one. A 10-point third quarter ultimately did the Magic in. Hedo Turkoglu had one of his poor shooting games (he did have those) and the Magic just did not have it in this one.

Game 5 — Nuggets 112, Magic 110 (DEN leads 3-2)

It would not be a NBA Finals series with the Magic without a collapse. And this one will go down as the collapse of the series, and possibly its turning point. The Magic led by 14 at the half and nine at the end of the third quarter, only to see the Nuggets storm back for the win.

Denver tied the game with 2.5 minutes to play and took the lead for good on a Carmelo Anthony three with 2:09 to play. This was Anthony’s MVP moment. He scored nine of his 22 points in the final 2:09 to seize the game.

Orlando again could not find the range, making just 8 of 23 3-pointers (the same as Denver). That is so often the difference in these games for the Magic.

Dwight Howard had 31 points and 16 rebounds to go with four blocks. He was as dominant as ever. But the Magic went cold at the wrong moment. Turnovers cost the team (17 of them) including four each from Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu.

Game 6 — Nuggets 114, Magic 92 (DEN wins 4-2)

The magic simply ran out it seems in the final games of this series. Dwight Howard put in his numbers with 25 points, 23 rebounds and five blocks. His four turnovers hurt the team again as the Magic’s lack of help finally came to brunt. Orlando made just 10 of 37 3-pointers.

Without that weapon, the Magic simply did not have enough. There was no scoring help for Howard and that became clear throughout the series.

J.R. Smith had his breakout game with 20 points and 4-for-9 shooting. Anthony scored 23 points and dished out 10 assists to cement his MVP series.

In the end, Orlando just could not keep up when the shots stopped falling. Like the real series against the Lakers, this simulated series revealed its flaws of lacking a true perimeter creator.