Injury-Riddled Magic Fall to Nuggets

Jameer Nelson

By John Denton
Jan. 11, 2014

DENVER – Orlando Magic point guard Victor Oladipo had his head up and was looking for someone to pass to when Denver’s Kenneth Faried poked the ball away and dunked on the other end as he was fouled by the Magic rookie.

Not to be outdone, Oladipo came back on the next possession and drove fearlessly down the lane. He launched his body into the power forward, absorbed a blow and sent the 228-pounder to the floor. And after flipping in the shot, Oladipo glared at Faried to let him know that he wouldn’t be backing down any time soon.

The Magic were badly undermanned and overmatched on Saturday night without standouts Arron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic – and for a time – Jameer Nelson, but the sequence between Oladipo and Faried spoke volumes about Orlando’s willingness to fight even in the face of slim odds. Orlando fell behind big early, continued to fight in the second half and stayed competitive before eventually falling 120-94 to the surging Nuggets at Pepsi Center.

``I just wanted to move onto the next play. It’s basketball and things like that (turnover) are going to happen,’’ Oladipo said. ``I’m not shooting it well and I’m not playing well right now, but I just have to keep playing. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel even though it seems like it keeps getting worse and worse. But we’ve just got to keep playing.’’

Orlando dressed just 10 players and got little production (five points through the first three quarters) from their bench. Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis had a good shooting night and scored 20 points, while Oladipo added 15 points, five assists and three rebounds.

But they had trouble matching hot-shooting Denver, which hit 50.6 percent of its shots, drilled 12 3-pointers and won for a fifth straight time. Even Denver’s famed mascot, Rocky, hit an over-the–head shot from half court during a timeout late in the night.

``It was a challenge the entire night,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``At halftime they just had six threes, so we kind of had that under control. But their ability to get into transition provided problems for us. It was difficult for us, but we gave what we have.’’

Orlando (10-27) had little chance against Denver (19-17) without its leading scorer (Afflalo), its leading rebounder (Vucevic) and the leader in assists (Nelson) because of injuries. Nelson, who is one of only two players in franchise history to wear a Magic uniform for 10 seasons, left the game in the third quarter with a sprained right index finger. X-rays on the finger were negative.

``I’ll just listen to my body and hopefully the pain goes away by (Sunday),’’ Nelson said of his status going forward. ``We’ve got a day off and we’ll get some rest. … We just have to keep fighting. This is our job and we can’t just go out there and lay down. We have to play hard and do it together. There’s an opportunity for other guys to play and make a name for themselves a little bit. Guys get to extend their role a little bit.’’

As if all of that wasn’t enough to stack the odds against a Magic team now with a seven-game losing streak, they were also playing arguably the NBA’s most difficult back-to-back set of games.

The Magic lost in Sacramento on Friday and then had to make the two-hour flight to Denver. Following the flight, the team took a 45-minute bus ride from the airport and arrived at its hotel at 3 a.m. local time. In the past six years, only three road teams have won on the second night of a back-to-back in Denver after playing in the Pacific Time Zone a night earlier, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Orlando’s 2008-09 team was one of those three to win in Denver in 25 tries, but that was clearly a squad loaded with firepower and healthy bodies. That’s certainly not the case with this Magic team, which lost Ronnie Price (sinus infection) before the trip, Vucevic (concussion) on Monday and Afflalo (foot strain) on Friday in Sacramento.

Magic forward Tobias Harris scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while Nelson added 10 points and seven assists before leaving injured. Second-year forward Maurice Harkless, who started on the wing in place of the injured Afflalo, scored just three points in limited action because of a sore knee.

Seven Nuggets scored in double figures, led by Randy Foye’s 18 points and three 3-pointers. Ty Lawson, a potential all-star in the ruggest Western Conference, bedeviled the Magic for 16 points, eight assists and four 3-pointers.

The Magic’s five-game, 10-day road trip mercifully comes to an end Monday night in Dallas against the Mavericks. The team flew to Dallas after Saturday’s game and it will be off on Sunday. The Magic will be back at the Amway Center on Wednesday night to face the Chicago Bulls – the first of three straight home games.

``It’s real frustrating because this is the first time we’ve been losing like this and we’re down some guys,’’ Harris said. ``As a team, we have to stay together and stay positive. We have another one in Dallas and we have to have a better mindset and focus going into the game.’’

Davis tried to keep the Magic close in the third quarter by making four jump shots in the period. Orlando got as close as 76-60 on a jumper by Davis, but Denver quickly pushed its lead back to 92-66 by the start of the fourth quarter.

``He really had some good looks tonight and they went in,’’ Vaughn said ofg Davis. ``They were the same shots that he had in Sacramento. Exact same shots and same play calls and they went in tonight. I love that he was persistent, taking the right shots and playing the right way.’’

Denver coach Brian Shaw, who played on the Magic’s 1995 team that reached the 1995 NBA Finals, talked before the game about his team not being good enough to overlook any team, and the Nuggets certainly didn’t do that in the first half while racing to a 69-47 lead. Six Nuggets had at least six points in the first half as they shot 54.5 percent and drilled six 3-pointers.

Denver’s dancers throw T-shirts into the crowd every time a Nuggets’ player hits a 3-pointer, and considering the torrid shooting by Denver early on it seemed as if every fan inside the Pepsi Center might get a T-shirt. The Nuggets made six of their first nine tries from beyond the arc to blow out to a 17-point lead.

Highlighted by the three-point play where he went at Denver’s Faried, Oladipo played especially well in the first half. He made five of his first nine shots and handed out four assists in the first 24 minutes.

And no play in the second half was more impressive that Oladipo going right back at a player nicknamed ``Manimal’’ because of his ferocious and physical style of play. Vaughn said the moment offered a glimpse into the competitive nature of Orlando’s prized No. 2 pick from last June’s NBA Draft.

``He’s done it time and time again of playing onto the next play,’’ Vaughn said. ``He’ll eventually be better when the ball isn’t taken away from him. That’s where we want him to get to. We’ll keep putting him in these positions and he’ll grow from this.’’