There were a lot of people who were discounting Orlando earlier in the season because they believed the Magic’s incredible record was based solely on an easy early schedule. There is no way you can make that case anymore. Having watched most of their victory in Los Angeles Friday and their relatively easy dismissal of the Nugget last night I believe these guys are contenders.
They receive a great deal of credit for their three point shooting and offensive explosiveness, but it is their defense that really amazed me. It is easy to say that Denver played a lazy offensive game and did not try hard enough to get into the lane. From what I saw the Nuggets were trying to get to the rim, but Orlando just would not let them. Whether it was J.R. or Chauncey they always ran into a wall of defenders as soon as they hit the free throw line.
The Nuggets inside presence was completely negated thanks to Dwight Howard, foul trouble and poor shooting. When Nene was in the game he had a very difficult time scoring over Howard. You could tell he was not comfortable shooting over someone with such incredible physical gifts. Nene also suffered from foul trouble, but I think all of the fouls that were called on him were fouls. I did like seeing Nene get in Howard’s face a couple of times, but his game did not back up his bravado.
I remember wondering to myself how the Nuggets were managing to score at all even as early in the game as three minutes into the second quarter when they were ahead 31-29. When Orlando built up a nine point lead with a buzzer beating heave at the end of the third quarter by Hedo Turkoglu it seemed that it was an insurmountable lead.
I can handle the Nuggets’ lack of offense by the Nuggets because Orlando simply played stellar defense. What was frustrating was the way they completely dissolved in the second half defensively. The collapse was highlighted by Denver’s complete lack of understanding and/or desire to defend the pick and roll. The guards seemed disinterested in fighting through the screen and the bigs were more worried about not giving up a dunk to Howard than they were about stopping the ball. Nene was especially guilty as on most instances he never even went near the ball handler.
The other issue was simply Jameer Nelson’s ability to blow past whoever was guarding him at will. I have never thought of Nelson as a fast player and expected Billups or Anthony Carter to be able to keep him out of the lane, but he blew by them even without the benefit of a screen.
There was some discussion in the game thread as to whether or not the Nuggets were on the Magic’s level. Some thought with Melo we were better, but I have to disagree. I think you have to put Orlando in the same class as the Cavs, Celtics and Lakers. They are a very formidable squad.
Even with the loss last night you have to consider this to have been a successful homestand. To finish 5-2 against mostly playoff caliber teams was impressive, especially considering that they lost Melo for the final five games. As I wrote earlier the Phoenix win was what made the homestand for me. That was a good win against a very hot team. And the fact that Denver was able to hang with Orlando for the first 35 minutes last night was even somewhat impressive.
Tomorrow Denver faces another tough game, this time on the road against the Rockets. Houston is even more banged up than Denver as I do not believe Tracy McGrady or Ron Artest are going to play. Make note of the special Martin Luther King, Jr. Day start time of noon Mountain time.
Other Game 41 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor – 95.0
Defensive Efficiency – 111.6 – Not atrocious, but not good.
Offensive Efficiency – 92.6 – Yep, the lowest single game rating of the season surpassing the 93.2 they vomited up in the game against Cleveland in Denver.
Featured Blog: Third Quarter Collapse