Nuggets 101, Magic 74
JaVale McGee's rim-rattling, backboard-shaking dunks left the crowd roaring, his teammates applauding and the opposition fuming.
They weren't just for show, however.
It was the sixth win in eight games for the surging Nuggets, who clinched their ninth consecutive trip to the playoffs the night before with a win at Phoenix.
''I feel like we're getting better every game and we're becoming a solid team to where we can play people who don't play so we can give our people a rest for the next game,'' said McGee, who came off the bench to become the 10th different Nuggets player to lead or share the team lead in scoring.
''We didn't do our defensive assignments,'' the Magic's Jason Richardson said after Orlando was beaten repeatedly on lob passes inside to McGee and Denver's other big men. ''We didn't have energy. We didn't do anything how we've been playing the past five or six games.''
Ryan Anderson scored 24 points for the Magic, who lost their third straight. Glen Davis added 14 points for playoff-bound Orlando, which also lost guard Jameer Nelson to a calf injury. He left the game in the first quarter and did not return.
Howard, who missed Orlando's April 1 loss to Denver because of back spasms, is out for the rest of the season after undergoing surgery last week to repair a herniated disk in his lower back.
Breaking away from a halftime tie, the Nuggets had a 67-58 advantage when Andre Miller capped a 6-0 burst with a 17-foot jumper with 2:30 left in the third.
Denver took a 73-62 lead into the fourth quarter - its biggest lead to that point - after consecutive dunks in the last minute of the third by McGee off alley-oop passes from Miller.
Orlando fought back within 75-69 on Ish Smith's driving layup with 9:22 left, but the Nuggets got their inside game going again. Kenneth Faried and McGee took turns muscling in dunks to go up 79-69 with 8:17 remaining.
''Some of those dunks were pretty important,'' Nuggets coach George Karl said. ''The game was not over when he made a couple of those dunks against the zone.''
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy was fuming over the lackluster defensive play inside by the Magic, dismissing the possibility of fatigue because of a back-to-back set.
''I don't think it had anything to do with running out of gas,'' Van Gundy said. ''Four times a guy's going to start up to set a pick and back cut for a lob? It's absurd. We ran out of focus, we ran out of competitiveness. That's what we ran out of.''
McGee jammed home a couple more dunks as the Nuggets moved to a 93-74 lead with 3:10 left to play. Orlando was held to 30 second-half points, 12 in the final quarter.
''It was a lot of fun,'' said McGee, who also had eight rebounds and three blocked shots. ''We passed the ball and we were playing great defense. Things were just getting open for us.''
Lawson's driving layup with 50 seconds left in the second quarter forged a 44-all tie at halftime. Denver was leading 24-19 after the first period, but Orlando put together a 12-2 run to go in front 35-31. Anderson hit two 3-pointers during the surge.
NOTES: Nuggets forward Al Harrington, one of the league's top sixth men who has been playing through a torn meniscus in his right knee, was given the night off. It's the first time he's missed a game this season. Karl said in a pregame news conference that Harrington probably will play in only one of the team's two remaining regular-season games to try to get him in the best possible shape for the playoffs. ... The Magic, who lost in overtime at Utah on Saturday, were 18-18 in back-to-back sets this season. ... Miller finished with 11 assists. ... The season series sweep of Orlando by the Nuggets was Denver's first since the 1991-92 season. ... The Magic's point total represented a season low by a Nuggets' opponent.