Denver Nuggets at Orlando Magic game preview
The Denver Nuggets were cruising as they hit the midpoint of their six-game road trip Thursday. They had built a healthy lead over the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center on Wednesday with the ball moving around the perimeter and finding open shooters.
The well slowly dried up. The ball movement stopped as Washington upped its defense. The lead quickly disappeared. The Nuggets looked like they ran out of gas, fatigue killing the team's spacing and ball movement as the Wizards found that last bit of energy.
Denver scored just 12 points in the fourth quarter, seeing a two-point deficit balloon to a 92-85 loss on the road. The Nuggets had just 33 points in the second half and committed a league-high 29 turnovers this season. As the game wore on, Denver saw the energy that built them as much as a 14-point lead evaporate. Their sharpness and precision whittled away.
"There are repercussions to not being ready to play (Wednesday night)," Nuggets coach Michael Malone told Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. "Back-to-backs are always tough, but when you have to dig so deep to make it a three-point game late (Wednesday) night, they jumped on us in that second half. You could see our pace slow down, we missed free throws, we missed open shots, and that's what fatigue does to you."
So is the energy-sucking reality of a road trip.
The Nuggets will head to Orlando on Saturday for their fifth game on a six-game road trip that has taken them from Utah to the East Coast. It is Denver's fifth game in nine days. Adding in all the travel, it is an exhausting set.
The Magic know all too well the rigors of travel. Saturday represents the ending to one of the most difficult stretches they will see this season.
Orlando returned home from a five-game road trip Wednesday in a loss to the Boston Celtics. The Celtics, like the Wizards did to the Nuggets, blew the doors open in the second half, outscoring the Magic by 31 points for a 117-87 win. It was a disappointing and frustrating moment for a Magic team that won four of five games on that road trip.
As dutiful players, no one would blame fatigue for the blowout loss at home.
"I don't think that should be an excuse as far as us coming off a back-to-back," Bismack Biyombo. "Everyone is playing back-to-backs. There are a lot of teams winning back-to-backs. We have to be responsible and handle our business. We have to find a way to get back to playing our game, trust the next guy, do the right thing and set the right screens and get back to being the team we want to be."
Undoubtedly, though, fatigue played a role. The team just completed an eight-day, five-game road trip that ended with a back-to-back at home against the Celtics. That would make six games in nine days, an incredibly brutal stretch.
And the last game of that road trip began the Magic's only stretch of four games in five nights. Orlando completes that stretch with Saturday's game against the Denver Nuggets, making for eight games in 12 days. That is about as jammed a schedule as any team in the NBA will have for any stretch.
That fatigue and that exhaustion got tested in Charlotte as Orlando fell 109-88. In the process, the Magic may have lost three key players to injury. Bismack Biyombo (shoulder), Nikola Vucevic (knee) and Jeff Green (ankle) all left during the game because of injuries.
By the time Saturday comes around though, the Magic may very well be exhausted. So too might the Denver Nuggets with how their schedule is playing out.
The schedule, though, does not wait for any team.