When the Nuggets go to Orlando it will be a reunion of sorts. But with Al Harrington targeting a mid-December from knee surgery, Arron Afflalo is the only former teammate they’ll face on the court. It is the Magic’s opening game, and after having traded Dwight Howard, who for years has been the center of their universe, it’s really up in the air how they will look coming out of the gates.
Most analysts have predicted a fairly dismal season for this rebuilding Orlando team. But this is not a game the Nuggets can afford to take lightly. Through its preseason games and opener, Denver has not shown any noticeable improvement in perimeter defense despite the addition of Andre Iguodala. Weak defense of the arc could prove to be an Achilles heel against the Magic, whose (arguably) three best players – Afflalo, J.J. Reddick and Jameer Nelson – and those who they’ll be relying most heavily on for offensive production, are all very capable 3-point shooters.
One of the most intriguing – and frustrating for many fans – storylines from Denver’s first game against the Philadelphia 76ers is the fact that George Karl pulled Kenneth Faried out of the game less than two minutes into the second half, never to see the court again. In explaining the benching, Karl made what on its face is a pretty flimsy excuse about Faried not being the “best option” in catch-up situations. (Note to self: Research Faried’s +/- in stretches of games where Denver came back from deficits… Hypothesis: Plus). The fact that 6 foot 9 Glen Davis starts at power forward and can no longer take cover in Dwight’s imposing shadow presents Faried with a potentially favorable matchup.
Nuggets fans have been waiting for Iguodala to have his first big impact game with the Nuggets. Rookie Moe Harkless is unlikely to play due to a hip injury, meaning that Hedo Turkoglu and Afflalo will probably play most of Orlando’s minutes at the 3, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some Karl-style small ball action from the Magic. Iguodala should be able to use his athleticism to get to the rim at will against his less athletic and/or smaller defenders.
Benjamin Hochman tweeted that Danilo Gallinari should be back from his ankle injury. Hopefully his return can bring a semblance of order to the slopfest the Nuggets were putting on display against Philly.
Overall, facing an opponent with a recently dismantled roster who themselves are far yet from knowing their identity as a team, this game is a really great chance for the Nuggets to whip into shape some of the areas they’ve been struggling to pull together – team defense, limiting turnovers, team chemistry in general. And realistically, given that the following game is in Miami, it’s their best chance to ensure they don’t go back to Denver having opened the season with three goose eggs.
The game is at 5pm/MT at Amway Center, Orlando, FL, on Altitude.