The Denver Nuggets are officially in a rut.

After winning the previous game against the Detroit Pistons to try and break out of a small slump, the Nuggets traveled to face the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night and looked to have a win all sewn up. Unfortunately, the Magic kept battling, and they just kept scoring. The Nuggets couldn’t get any stops on their way to a 124-119 loss to the Magic, dropping their fourth game in the last six tries. All have come without Jamal Murray in the lineup.

Nikola Jokic bounced back after a Monday night ejection, completing an impressive triple-double with 30 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists, three steals, and two blocks. Unfortunately, not enough things went right around him for the Nuggets to secure the victory, and Jokic’s defense was less than desirable (along with plenty of other players) down the stretch.

The Nuggets allowed 42 points to the Magic in their comeback effort in the fourth quarter. All three of Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner, and Paolo Banchero had their way with the Nuggets defense, and nothing the Nuggets tried throughout the game could slow that trio down.

It appeared that the Nuggets were well on their way to a winning effort in Orlando after playing pretty well through three quarters, but the fourth quarter produced perhaps Denver’s worst defensive efforts of the entire season. Beginning with the bench unit that featured Reggie Jackson, Julian Strawther, Christian Braun, Peyton Watson, and Zeke Nnaji. The only player that was consistently engaged and effective on that end was Braun, but one player does not a defense make. The Magic generated open shot after open shot, and the Nuggets couldn’t secure the rebound even if the Magic missed.

Those points proved an issue for Denver, but it was the points scored by Orlando in isolation on mismatches that proved fatal. Anthony, Banchero, and Franz Wagner scored 20 of the final 24 points by the Magic, and the other four were on free throws from role players to ice the game. The Nuggets allowed a runway for Orlando’s top scorers to make things happen whenever they wanted, and it was primarily Jokic and Porter who the Magic scorers targeted over and over again.

The Nuggets scored relatively well themselves down the stretch, led by Jokic going to work in the middle of the paint and generated great post offense. Unfortunately, there were enough empty possessions late in the game that made it impossible to keep up with Orlando. The Nuggets committed a shot clock violation late in the game, and an early Kentavious Caldwell-Pope three in transition turned out to be an empty possession.

This was a disappointing finish to a game that had been mostly positive throughout. Porter’s shot is fully back in rhythm at this stage, with the 6’10” forward scoring 25 points on 9-of-16 from the field and 5-of-9 from three-point range. Braun continued his recent hot shooting and is now 8 of his last 10 from three-point range. There’s enough there, especially offensively, to be excited about for the Nuggets.

Unfortunately, the team displayed a lot of traits of a tired group. Halfhearted contests, getting outworked for offensive rebounds, not sprinting into offensive sets and getting low in the shot clock. This was Denver’s fourth road game, and there’s been very little meaningful rest to begin the season. The Nuggets will have to refocus before the Houston Rockets In-Season Tournament game on Friday or else risk being eliminated from the festivities. Denver’s already on a losing road trip now at 1-3, but a win on Friday would save things.

Denver’s bench can’t get outworked in that one, and though there were some nice plays made against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons by the Nuggets reserves, the unit looked entirely overpowered tonight. Can they bounce back against a surprisingly good Rockets team? Time will tell.

Final Rotations