Magic race out to early lead, hold on to beat Nuggets
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Jason Smith knows his role in Orlando and played it well in the Magic's 116-110 win over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night.
Smith, the Magic's best reserve all season, came off the bench to score 25 points, grab 13 rebounds, both season highs, and provide a steadying influence in the fourth quarter as Orlando swept the two-game season series with Denver.
The eight-year veteran had 15 points and eight rebounds in the final period after Denver cut an 18-point deficit to three early in the fourth quarter.
Evan Fournier led the Magic with 30 points, and Victor Oladipo scored 23. Brandon Jennings added 12 points and 11 assists in his first start for the Magic.
"The object of our offense is to hit the open man and tonight I was the open man," said Smith, who made nine shots from the perimeter while going 10 of 15 for the game. "Evan was great. He basically knocked down every shot he took."
Fournier carried the Magic for the first three periods, scoring 27 of his 30 points during that stretch. He made 11 of 15 shots, including five 3-pointers. Denver couldn't find a defender willing to chase him around the perimeter and paid the price.
"I was just trying to be as efficient as possible," Fournier said. "That's what basketball is all about. You can have 40 points, but if you take 40 shots, that's not good for the team."
Denver had seven players in double figures, but couldn't find a hot hand that lasted very long, especially in the fourth quarter. Gary Harris had 18 points, Will Barton 15 and Nikola Jokic and Emmanuel Mudiay scored 14 apiece.
The Nuggets lost for the second straight time after winning four straight. They were lethargic defensively throughout the game, allowing Orlando to shoot 61.4 percent in the first half and 54.3 percent for the game.
"The whole night was very disappointing," Denver coach Mike Malone said. "We allowed them to score 116 points and shoot 54 percent, which is just crazy. I'm very disappointed with our defensive effort tonight. From the get-go they got whatever they wanted. We made a lot of mistakes and they made us pay almost every time."
Denver had trimmed an 18-point, third-quarter deficit to three early in the fourth and was down 92-87 after Barton's driving layup with 7:48 left when the comeback fell apart.
The Nuggets allowed Smith to get an uncontested offensive rebound and layup, then fouled Ersan Ilyasova as he attempted a fall-away 18-footer. The shot went in and Ilyasova finished the three-point play.
Smith added a free throw and Oladipo drove through the Nuggets' defense for an easy layup to push the score to 100-87 with 6:28 to play.
The closest the Nuggets got the rest of the way was 113-108 on a 3-pointer by Darrell Arthur with 17 seconds left.
Jennings made three of four free throws from there for Orlando to close it out.
"We had some good energy tonight, particularly in the first half," Magic coach Scott Skiles said. "It was a game we had to have and we were able to get it."
LOOKING FOR DEFENSE
Malone benched starters Kenneth Faried and JaKarr Sampson for the final 18 minutes. Denver cut an 18-point deficit to three during that span. "It was just a matter of trying to find a group that would actually guard a little bit and not be intimidated," Malone said. "We're coming off a four-game win streak and very productive homestand and we won because of our defense. We've come on the road and forgotten that."
Nuggets: Faried, who was 11 for 11 against Miami the night before, made his first two shots against Orlando, then missed a wide-open dunk. ... F Danilo Gallinari missed his seventh straight game with a sprained ankle. ... D.J. Augustin was the only one of 10 Nuggets players with a plus differential in the first half.
Magic: C Nikola Vucevic (groin) missed his fifth straight game and G Elfrid Payton (elbow) sat out his third in a row. ... F Aaron Gordon is 23 of 35 from the field (65.7 percent) in his last three games and has scored 53 points.
Nuggets: At Atlanta on Thursday.
Magic: At Charlotte on Wednesday.