Preview: Nikola Vucevic leads upstart Magic into showdown with Nuggets
TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 8:30 p.m.
The Orlando Magic are a half-second away from coming to Denver with a four-game winning streak in their pocket.
Danny Green’s basket helped Toronto beat Orlando 93-91 on Tuesday night, but it didn’t take away from the Magic’s recent surge. Orlando is (9-9) took the top team in the Eastern Conference to the wire before falling, and now it will turn its focus to a big Western Conference road swing.
That five-game road trip begins against the Nuggets (11-7), who have been stumbling since starting 9-1. They lost three straight at home before beating Atlanta last week and then salvaged the last of a three-game road trip with a 103-101 win at Minnesota on Wednesday night.
Denver will try to re-establish its homecourt dominance against Orlando, which is trying to get its trip off to a good start.
“It’s going to be a huge test as far as how can we fight through fatigue and travels,” Magic guard Evan Fournier told the Orlando Sentinel after Tuesday’s loss. “It’s tough because playing in Denver is going to be hard and then we got the Lakers, who we just whooped at home, and then we got Golden State, and they’re not playing good so they’re going be fired up, and then we got Portland, who’s ballin’ … tough road trip coming up.”
Fournier, whose career started in Denver, had 27 points against the Raptors. Nikola Vucevic had a double-double and was just named the Eastern Conference player of the week for games completed Nov. 18.
Denver has been trying to find a rhythm after its recent losing streak, and may have found something in the win against the Timberwolves. Paul Millsap led a third-quarter charge and then returned after getting stitches to close a laceration above his left eye that was the result of an inadvertent elbow.
“He’s got a nice scar,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after Wednesday’s game. “His new nickname is Scarface. I’m sure he’s going to have a nice headache (Thursday) morning.”
Millsap also was big on defense, having a big block down the stretch. Denver’s defense is much improved over last season but it has had lapses. The Nuggets allowed 125 points at New Orleans on Saturday and has given up more than 100 points in six of their last seven games.
Denver’s offense runs through center Nikola Jokic and point guard Jamal Murray, but both have had their struggles of late. Jokic was a reluctant shooter for a while but has been more aggressive while Murray’s shot has been off most of the season. The third-year guard out of Kentucky is shooting 43.5 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from 3-point range.
He broke out a bit against Minnesota, scoring 18 points and hitting two big free throws to seal the win with 6.8 seconds left.
Malone said earlier this week that Murray is thinking too much and wants him to keep shooting.
“I don’t want him turning down shots, and I think he’s doing that a little bit right now,” Malone told The Denver Post. “You can’t play this game effectively if you’re hesitating. Right now, he’s hesitating, he’s a little unsure of himself.”
Wednesday’s win might have helped him turn things around, as well as the team in general but they can’t relax against an Orlando team feeling confident and on the upswing.