Nuggets hope for another London-like outing against Magic
The Orlando Magic were leading the Utah Jazz on the road and playing well Saturday night, but a late collapse cost them what would have been a signature win.
Their reward for playing well for 45 minutes is facing a rested Nuggets team in Denver on Monday night.
The Nuggets (15-23) are travel-weary but feeling good after routing the Indiana Pacers on Thursday in London. Denver scored a season-high 140 points and had 37 assists, also a season best, in the victory.
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“One of our best games of the season, obviously coming at the right time,” Nuggets Michael Malone said after the game.
Now it’s back to work at Pepsi Center, where Denver has struggled this season. The Nuggets are 7-11 there and 8-11 overall in home games — they were considered the home team in London — which cannot continue if they want to make a run at the playoffs.
If they can transfer their effort from the O2 Arena to Denver, the Nuggets have a chance to reel off some wins on their home court.
“I joked with our guys after the game, ‘I think we’re going to stay here in London and play our home games here,” Malone said in London. “Our guys were very comfortable out there and we had one of our best performances.”
Denver got a great game from Nikola Jokic, the budding star who has come close to a triple-double on several occasions. He finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists against the Pacers.
Jokic has emerged as Denver’s best offensive player. While he is averaging just 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds for the season, the 21-year-old Serbian’s play in the last month has been the talk of Nuggets fans.
In Jokic’s last nine games, he has averaged 18 points and 8.7 rebounds.
The Magic (17-25) had a chance to beat the Jazz and their two big men, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, but couldn’t close it out Saturday night. Utah used a 13-0 run late in the fourth quarter to run past Orlando and pull out the win.
“It was rough, man,” Magic forward Aaron Gordon told the Orlando Sentinel on Saturday. “We had defensive lapses down the stretch. That’s how you give up a game.”
The Magic scored 42 points in the first quarter on Saturday but couldn’t sustain the pace and lost for the seventh time in nine games.
Monday’s game is the fifth of sixth through the Western Conference, and they play at New Orleans on Wednesday before heading home. Two wins to wrap up the trip will give them a .500 record on the six-game swing.
The Magic will need to play better defense down the stretch if they want to stop a Nuggets team that has found its offensive rhythm during the past month.
There will be no homecoming for guard Evan Fournier, who played his first two years in Denver before being dealt to the Magic before the 2014-15 season. Fournier is out for the near future with a right heel bruise that sidelined him for Saturday’s game.
“I was compensating a lot, so now it’s more than just the heel,” Fournier told the Orlando Sentinel. “It’s just the bottom of the foot, period. It’s frustrating, man. I could probably keep playing like this, but it’s not getting any better and I’m playing (at) like 60 percent (of my ability).”
The Nuggets will probably be without forward Darrell Arthur because of knee soreness that kept him out of Thursday’s game. Even without Arthur, Denver is hoping to build on the momentum from the win in London.