The Orlando Magic are riding high on a four-game win streak as they welcome the defending champion Denver Nuggets to the Amway Center for the only time this year.
Orlando Magic (9-5) vs. Denver Nuggets (10-4)
Time/TV: 7 p.m./Bally Sports Florida
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Line: Nuggets by 3.5/Magic Money Line: +136/Over-Under: 218 on FanDuel
Tickets: $14-$484 on StubHub
Season Series: Tonight in Orlando; Jan. 5 in Denver
Our Prediction Record: 8-6 Overall/9-5 ATS
Playing the Denver Nuggets is always a challenge. Nikola Jokic is one of the most unique players in the league today and he always seems to have some extra tricks in his bag. As does Aaron Gordon who is surely going to be motivated to play well against his former team.
Of course, this Orlando Magic team is different than what the Denver Nuggets have seen. They have the best defense in the league and have seen that defense stand up to some of the best offenses in the league -- that includes Sunday's big win over the Indiana Pacers. This Magic defense is very real and a very real challenge.
The Magic themselves proved to be a big challenge for the Nuggets last year. They won the game in Orlando running away and forced Jokic into a game-winning three-point to defeat them in Denver. Orlando's size can give Denver problems. And with how disruptive the Magic can be, they could cause some problems.
While Orlando did not travel for this back-to-back, that feels like the only thing working against Orlando in this one. Still, these are the Nuggets and the Magic will have to play very well.
3 Keys to Watch
The Orlando Magic's biggest offensive demerit to this point in the season has been the struggles with turnovers. The Magic struggled a ton earlier in the season with turnovers even though the raw number greatly improved from last year. They still sit 27th in the league in turnover rate.
That number though is only getting increasingly better though. The team is at a 16.0 percent turnover rate. But in their last two games, turnovers were hardly an issue. The Orlando Magic had a 12.9 percent turnover rate in the win over the Toronto Raptors and a 13.8 percent turnover rate in the win over the Indiana Pacers. Those are the second- and third-lowest rates of the season. If the Magic protect the ball, they become a very dangerous team.
That is especially because of how they force turnovers. Orlando leads the league forcing opponents into a 17.6 percent turnover rate. Denver is very good at protecting the ball this year, sitting at ninth with a 13.6 percent turnover rate. The Nuggets sit second in the league with an 11.9 percent turnover rate since Jamal Murray's injury.
The Jokic Factor
There is no denying that the biggest thing everyone has to pay attention to when the Orlando Magic face the Denver Nuggets is Nikola Jokic. He is already working on another MVP award averaging 27.4 points per game, a league-high 13.1 rebounds per game and 8.7 assists per game.
Wendell Carter is one of the best players defending him and even then, Nikola Jokic puts up some crazy good numbers. It is about making him uncomfortable more than it is about stopping him.
That task is going to fall to Goga Bitadze. Bitadze has already begun to establish himself as a solid paint protector in his starting role for the injured Wendell Carter. He recorded five blocks in Tuesday's win over the Toronto Raptors. And Bitadze has proven to be a solid and strong rim protector since entering the lineup.
Still, Jokic is another challenge entirely.
Pick up the Pace?
While the Orlando Magic have remained a team that creates a lot of turnovers, they have not been that effective at getting out in transition and scoring on the break. It seemed something of a contradiction for the team.
That contradiction is starting to get pushed to the wayside. Orlando is now in the middle of the pack in terms of pace (possessions per 48 minutes) and has started wracking up more fast-break points.
The Magic rank 21st in the league with 12.6 fast-break points per game. But in their last two games against the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers, the Orlando Magic eclipsed 20 fast-break points per game. That explains why they were able to pile on the points.
On top of this too, the Magic have played at a pace of greater than 100 possessions per 48 minutes in their last two games against higher paced teams like the Pacers and Raptors. They seemed to be comfortable at it, making smart decisions and avoiding turnovers in those contests.