Orlando Magic Grades: Denver Nuggets 119, Orlando Magic 109

Wendell Carter continued his inspired play in the Orlando Magic's loss to the Denver Nuggets. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Carter continued his inspired play in the Orlando Magic's loss to the Denver Nuggets. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

119. 73. Final. 109. 38

The 3-pointer giveth and the 3-pointer taketh away.

While the Orlando Magic’s 119-109 loss to the Denver Nuggets was incredibly gutsy given the rash of injuries and general fatigue by the few remaining players who were able to suit up, this was by no means a moral victory.

In a game where the Magic were up by as much as 18 points going into halftime, no amount of excuses or conditional statements about the condition of the team can alleviate the pain of losing such a big first-half lead and eventually losing to the Nuggets, even on the road.

You play each game to win — and you work all 48 minutes to make sure you pull it out.

The undermanned Orlando Magic were unable to hold off a second-half rally from the Denver Nuggets as the Magic’s 3-point shooting ran out.

Orlando certainly ran out of gas late and they came back to earth after a 9-for-18 shooting performance from long range in the first half. Their 3-pointers were coming up empty late in the game and they finished shooting just 37.2-percent in the second half and 4 for 17 from deep.

But this game was decided ultimately by a few factors: Rebounding and turnovers.

Particularly, the Nuggets’ decisive rebounding advantage (54-39) was crucial to provide second chance opportunities as well as preventing the Magic crucial scoring opportunities in the second half. Denver, one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the league, scored 17 points off 19 offensive rebounds, a relatively tame amount. But for a team with such a thin margin for error, each offensive board hurt more.

This discrepancy in rebounding became particularly pronounced in the second half, where the Magic’s increasingly cold shooting from three gave the Nuggets ample chances to cut the 18-point halftime deficit and eventually take the lead for good.

The Magic were able to build a sizable first-half lead due to their aggressiveness in committing Nugget turnovers (seven turnovers in the first half). The script flipped in the second half, where the Magic found themselves on the wrong end of several sloppy plays and ineffective offensive sets.

Orlando committed eight of the team’s 12 turnovers in the second half, leading to 12 points off turnovers for Denver.

This game showed progress compared to Saturday’s loss to the Utah Jazz. The Magic were competitive throughout despite their various ailments and the players who were healthy showed some very encouraging signs as the new players become increasingly comfortable in Steve Clifford’s system.

Orlando Magic. R.J. HAMPTON. A. . G

While the hype surrounding this matchup revolved around the “Aaron Gordon Revenge Game” narrative, few pointed out this game was also R.J. Hampton‘s first against his former team. Hampton played like someone who had something to prove tonight — especially in front of Denver fans.

Hampton played with incredible intensity and was tenacious from tipoff — scoring the first seven points for the Orlando Magic in the first quarter (ending the game with a career-high 16) and setting the tone that the Magic were not going to have a repeat performance of the Utah Jazz game. R.J. Hampton was active on the defensive end as well, totaling two steals and actively pestering Jamal Murray in the first half.

It was fun to watch Hampton take control of the offense. It seems Steve Clifford has begun to trust the rookie with more opportunities to initiate the offense by utilizing his athleticism to his advantage in the half-court.

B+. . C. Orlando Magic. WENDELL CARTER

It was clear from the opening tipoff that Wendell Carter was determined not to let Nikola Jokic take advantage of him in the post. Carter was aggressive defensively — culminating in three steals and a block — while simultaneously backing down Jokic repeatedly and taking away his chances at easy post scores.

While this aggressiveness was impressive, it also served as a detriment. Carter was in foul trouble in the second half due to his aggressive playstyle — ending with four fouls. And Jokic still burned his sometimes overly physical defense with cutting passes as he tallied 16 assists. At least Carter seemed to get under Jokic’s skin and frustrate him for much of the game. Jokic did not seem super attentive as he complained to officials.

Carter impressed a lot on the offensive end. He showed off a myriad of on and off-ball moves that demonstrated his offensive versatility when given the opportunity. In particular, Carter was able to score from all levels and was one of the key sources of offensive production in the second half when the Magic needed baskets. Carter ended with 16 points.

. F. Orlando Magic. CHUMA OKEKE. B

Point guard Chuma Okeke needs to be a thing. It is clear the Orlando Magic offense is much more effective with Okeke operating as the primary ball-handler. Okeke’s ability to handle the ball combined with his athleticism and speed allows him not only to find shots for himself but for his teammates as well. He is also a fairly good decisionmaker, knowing when he should attack and when he should not (most of the time, at least).

Chuma Okeke was tied with Terrence Ross as the highest scorer on the Magic with 19 points and paced the Magic with five assists on the night.

On the defensive end, Okeke had some great moments in the first half guarding difficult matchups in Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. In the second half, whether it be adjustments by the Nuggets or fatigue, Okeke was losing those matchups (especially to cutters) more often to Gordon and Porter Jr as the Nuggets came back into the game.

. G/F. Orlando Magic. TERRENCE ROSS. C+

When the Orlando Magic’s offense worked, it was because of how it flowed offensively. The ball moved to the open man, working inside out and with force and confidence. When it did not? It was often because players were trying to find their own shot and driving into the teeth of the defense. The reality is the Magic are still a struggling offensive outfit. And when the offense bogs down, it looks a whole lot worse.

Orlando’s inability to create is abundantly clear. Ross had a strong performance through three quarters, scoring 16 of his 19 points on 6-for-15 shooting through three quarters. But his shot selection and scoring took a nosedive in the critical fourth quarter. It felt like Ross was chucking as the Magic tried to involve him in pick and rolls. they seemingly had no other way to score. He had three points on 1-for-3 shooting in the fourth quarter. And it just felt like Ross was trying to take over and could not.

. 31-18. 4th West. DENVER NUGGETS. B-

Aaron Gordon came out on a mission: Wreak havoc on his former team. In his first game against the team he called his own for the better part of a decade, Gordon absolutely dominated. Beyond his game-high 24 points on an effective 10-for-13 shooting, Aaron Gordon demonstrated a lethal offensive connection with Nikola Jokic on cutters. Gordon feasted on a depleted Orlando Magic team and was quick to show his strengths on an already incredible Denver Nuggets team.

The rest of the Nuggets though struggled to find their footing. They got torched by a spunky and aggressive Magic squad early in the game and they never could quite put distance between them and the undermanned group. The Magic seemed to get under their skin as they turned to the officials for help. Denver is clearly the better and more talented team. The Nuggets still found a way to win. But this one was not pretty. They played down to the Magic’s level for most of the night.

Next. Orlando Magic better hope the pain of losing pays off. dark

The Orlando Magic are now 17-33 and 14th in the Eastern Conference. They trail the Chicago Bulls by four games for the final spot in the Play-In Tournament. The Orlando Magic return to action Wednesday at the Amway Center against the Washington Wizards.