Throughout this season, the inability of the Denver Nuggets to guard against the 3-pointer has been one of the team’s worst defensive traits. On Tuesday night inside the Pepsi Center, the Orlando Magic proved that it doesn’t take long-range shooting to beat the Nuggets.
Orlando hit just 1-of-16 from 3-point range but the Magic consistently drove down the lane for easy baskets in the second half as the visitors outscored Denver 45-27 after intermission on their way to an 85-74 decision over the Nuggets before a crowd of 13,925.
Orlando’s Elfrid Payton proved to be Denver’s undoing in the second half, scoring 14 of his 18 points in the game’s final two quarters. The Magic point guard went 6-of-10 after intermission, with all of those buckets helping Orlando (now 12-9 on the season) outscore Denver 54-34 in the paint.
Payton would join Nikola Vucevic for high-point honors with 18 while Tobias Harris added 17, including 15 in the first half as Orlando struggled to find its offensive rhythm.
Denver, meanwhile, hit just 17-of-43 shots in the paint as the Nuggets scored just 27 points in the second half, including 11 in the fourth quarter, as Denver (now 8-14 on the season) fell to 0-11 in games this season where they have tallied under 100 points.
“When you turn the ball over, when you can’t make open shots, and when you can’t finish, you have a hard time scoring,” said Denver head coach Michael Malone. “We didn’t convert at the rim. We missed a ton of layups. That will cause you to have a drought offensively.”
The drought was slow to take effect on Tuesday night as Denver’s point total diminished in each quarter, going from 26 to 21 to 16 to 11. The Nuggets shot just 24.4 percent (10-of-41) in the second half and hit just four of 11 free throws.
“No disrespect to them, but it didn’t have anything to do with them,” Malone said. “We got to the rim all night long. We lived at the rim. We just didn’t convert. We got open looks and couldn’t make a shot. Some of our turnovers had nothing to do with them. We looked like the Bad News Bears. I’m embarrassed by some of the turnovers we have.
“We played OK defense but our offense is on a milk carton. It’s missing. I don’t know where it is.”
Will Barton paced the Nuggets with 23 points, marking the 19th time this season that he has scored in double-digits coming off the bench. He was one of just three Nuggets to score 10 points or more but needed 23 shots to make his numbers.
“He put up good numbers,” Malone said. “He had 23 points and put up a lot of shots. He got to the rim but wasn’t able to convert all the time. He had another night when he stuffed the stat sheet but it’s not just about offense.”
“We give our guys personnel reports and our guys still go out there and make the same mistakes,” an obviously frustrated Malone said. “We get beat middle, leaving our feet on shot fakes, whatever it may be. Our attention to detail, our ability to lock in and focus and have discipline is piss-poor right now. That has a lot to do with us being a team that plays 36 to 40 minutes a night and not 48. Until we get players in here who understand the importance of having discipline and focus and approaching it the right way, we’ll continue to have mixed results.”
Denver returns to the court on Friday night with a home matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves.