Orlando Magic at Denver Nuggets (Jan. 15, 2023): 3 Things To Watch, Odds and Prediction

Wendell Carter played some stellar defense to help lead the Orlando Magic past Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Carter played some stellar defense to help lead the Orlando Magic past Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic conclude their West Coast trip as they take on the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets with a chance to come away with a winning trip.

Orlando Magic (16-27) at Denver Nuggets (29-13)

Time/TV: 8 p.m./Bally Sports Florida
Line: Nuggets by 10
Tickets: $49-$410 on StubHub
Season Series: Tonight in Denver; Feb. 9 in Orlando

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OMD Prediction

The Orlando Magic are still working to become a more consistent team. The way that this team will show how serious it is will come both in how the team performs against the best teams in the league and how the team performs on the road. Slowly the Magic are putting together better road showings — including so far on this road trip at 2-2 with two impressive win and two frustrating losses.

Orlando though does not have many of the marquee wins the team wants to see. There were two great road wins over the Boston Celtics and that is about it. Not that Orlando has had a ton of opportunities — but still losses to the Brooklyn nets, Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers show how far the team still has to go to challenge the top teams in the league.

Sunday will bring another opportunity to do so against a tough and high-powered Denver Nuggets team. Nikola Jokic is expected back after sitting out Friday’s game and he is on track to get serious consideration for a third straight MVP award. And it is earned.

That alone will make it tough for the Magic. The Nuggets have plenty of weapons elsewhere too.

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3 Keys To Watch

Wendell Carter vs. Nikola Jokic

The key matchup in this game will be the one between Wendell Carter and Nikola Jokic. There are frankly just a few players who can and a few ways to stop Jokic. He is averaging 24.9 points per game, 11.0 rebounds per game and 9.7 assists per game. He just does everything for the Nuggets, even though his scoring is down this year.

Of course, there is one guy who has had some good fortune on Jokic. That would be Wendell Carter.

In last year’s matchups with the Nuggets, Jokic shot just 12 for 34 for 28 points (with 11 assists) with Carter as his primary defender according to NBA.com. He also went 3 for 13 from deep with Carter as his defender.

Jokic still averaged 22.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game in the two matchups as the two teams split their season series there is no stopping Jokic, there is only limiting his impact. And even that is extremely tough with how much the Nuggets run their offense through him.

Aaron Gordon-aissance

Orlando Magic fans know Aaron Gordon’s strengths and weaknesses like the back of their hands. They know he is a skilled and versatile defender capable of being engaged and deadly on that end. They know he can be an impactful scorer as a cutter and in-between player within an offense and a capable outside shooter.

Gordon was not successful in Orlando because he was a young player eager to stretch his capabilities and what he could do. As many talented young players should, Gordon wanted to be a star. And he was on a team that needed him to be that.

The problem was that he is not a star. He needed to carve out a role and be successful in that role. He needed a pecking order that the rebuilding Magic could not give him.

Gordon has found that with the Denver Nuggets. He is having a breakout season (again?) and is getting some All-Star buzz as he is averaging 16.5 points per game on a career-best 63.4 percent effective field goal percentage. The Nuggets are enabling Gordon to do the things he has always been best at. And he is finally emerging.

Guard help

The Orlando Magic are constantly evaluating their roster and the team — and its fans — are thinking about the team’s next steps and how they can build this team back into a winning outfit. From that perspective, there is a clear weakness that needs some resolving. If Orlando is going to make a postseason push, it is going to come from its guards.

That was highlighted especially in Friday’s loss to the Utah Jazz. The guard quartet of Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris (who left the game with an injury), Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs went a combined 6 for 21 for 16 points.

The Magic simply need more from their guards. The team puts a heavy burden on its size with Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero leading the way. And Orlando puts the ball in their hands as if they are guards. But they need floor spacing from the guards and they need them to be able to hit a few shots to get the team going.

Next. Fourth-Quarter Franz Wagner is everything the Orlando Magic need. dark

Especially against a good Nuggets team, that will be key to the team’s chances in this one.

Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.