James Borrego disappointed with defensive effort against Nuggets

Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari reaches for the ball with Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson, left and guard Ben Gordon (7) during the second half.

Willie J. Allen, Jr./AP

ORLANDO, Fla. — Before Sunday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic interim coach James Borrego said his team was as strong on offense in the past month as it has been all season.

Four hours and 119 points later, he was far less complimentary toward the Magic’s play on defense.

Whether it was former Magic point guard Jameer Nelson leading a charge late in the first quarter and throughout the second quarter or Danilo Gallinari repeatedly lighting it up from 3-point range and getting to the foul line, the Nuggets had their way. And Borrego made it clear there’s no way he’s going to stand for this over the Magic’s final 10 games.

"Toward the end of the first quarter, we had a group out there that wasn’t focused, lacked the urgency, the competitiveness to play a game today," he said following a 119-100 loss which wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. "Give Denver credit. They played well. But I didn’t think we respected that group enough. We could have been much better today."

That group he singled out consisted of Luke Ridnour, Willie Green, Kyle O’Quinn, Ben Gordon and rookie Aaron Gordon. Both O’Quinn and Ben Gordon came in with 1:12 to go in the quarter and the Magic up 25-23, while Green was playing for the first time in almost two weeks. Nelson hit a 3-pointer and a driving layup to finish the quarter, and it turned out that the Magic’s problems were just getting started.

After turning over the ball only seven times Friday night in defeating the Portland Trail Blazers, the Magic were guilty of eight turnovers in the second quarter alone. The 41 points put up by the Nuggets, which included 31 from their bench, were one shy of the high for any opponent in any quarter against them.

"We weren’t scoring a whole lot or getting stops," guard Victor Oladipo said. "And when you don’t do that, that’s what happens."

It’s one thing to give up 66 points by halftime to LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers or 65 to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. But the Nuggets went to the locker room with a 69-51 advantage despite having just as little to play for as the Magic.

Magic vs. Nuggets

"I believe every time that’s happened, some guy has gone crazy and had 25 at halftime," Oladipo said.

Gallinari wasn’t quite that prolific. But his 18-point effort in the first half was simply a prelude of bigger things to come.

The 6-foot-10 native of Italy added 14 points in the third quarter, when the Nuggets went up by as many as 33. And his two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter gave him a career-high 40 points before he got the rest of the night off with 8:37 to go.

"We were fouling too much," Borrego said, alluding to the 28-11 advantage the Nuggets had in free-throw attempts through three quarters. "We were scrambling too much on him. We were not solid in our coverages. We did not guard him one on one. We did not bring weakside help."

"The refs were giving them the calls," Oladipo said. "We’ve got to do a better job of still being aggressive defensively. Because they started being real quick with the whistle, it made us back off a little bit. We weren’t as aggressive as we usually are. We’ve just got to be aggressive and be smart."

Too often, the Magic were neither. It didn’t help that they were missing three forwards in Tobias Harris, Dewayne Dedmon and Channing Frye. But as a proponent of the next-man-up school of thought, Borrego wasn’t about to cite those absences.

"It’s not an excuse," he said. "We had enough bodies to get it done. We just didn’t get it done."

"We can go small. We can go really small," Oladipo said, referring to the lineup which included Ridnour, rookie Elfrid Payton and himself. "It’s tough, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got."

If the Nuggets can inflict this sort of beating on the Magic, it gives one pause to wonder what could happen Wednesday night when the Atlanta Hawks — who are running away with the best record in the Eastern Conference — come to town.

"If we continue to give this defensive effort, the results won’t change," Borrego said. "Whether we’re playing Denver, Utah, New York, it won’t matter. If we don’t get our defense right and if we don’t compete every single night defensively, the results will be the same."

You can follow Ken Hornack on Twitter @HornackFSFla or email him at khornack32176@gmail.com.