Tired Magic will have hands full with Jokic, Nuggets

NBA Basketball
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The Denver Nuggets played three games in four days, the last of which was an unexpectedly tight one, so star center Nikola Jokic spent the team’s off day playing video games and resting on Monday.

He earned it.

Jokic has come to life after a ho-hum stretch of five games in which he averaged 8.4 points. His resurgent play has helped Denver bounce back from a tough road trip. He has six double-doubles and a triple-double in the past six games, and he came up big in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks on Sunday night to lead a comeback win.

The Nuggets will try to make it four straight victories when they host the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night, and Denver will have the advantage of rest. Orlando lost 109-102 at Utah on Tuesday night, and the Wednesday game is its third in a four-game trip.

The Magic could have been 2-0 on the trip heading to Denver, but they couldn’t hold onto a 97-90 lead in the last five minutes, allowing the Jazz to close out the game on a 19-5 run.

Like every team, Orlando will focus on limiting Jokic, who has done plenty of damage over the past six games, averaging 23.7 points, 11 rebounds and 7.3 assists. His production was needed in the close win over the Knicks on Sunday, especially with starting power forward Paul Millsap sidelined for the second straight night with a right quad strain.

Millsap likely won’t play against the Magic, and Jerami Grant is expected to step into the starting lineup again.

Millsap’s absence could open up playing time for others, such as guard Malik Beasley, who has not gotten off the bench for three games. Coach Michael Malone said Tuesday that he has been relying too much on starting guard Gary Harris and needs to find ways to spell him. Beasley can fill that role.

“We just finished up eight games in 12 days, crazy stretch,” Malone said. “If I’m playing Gary Harris 37, 38 minutes, that’s not going to be good for him long term. I have to get back to also giving other guys a chance to play and trusting guys because I don’t want to wear us down in the middle of January.”

Orlando will try to wear down Denver on its home court. Magic coach Steve Clifford has emphasized a quicker pace and crisper ball movement in the half-court to open up shots. That philosophy helped in a 130-119 win at New Orleans on Saturday and nearly stole another one in Utah.

On defense, the concern will be stopping Jokic, and that job could fall to center Nikola Vucevic, who returned to the lineup against the Pelicans after missing 11 games with an ankle injury. Vucevic has averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds in his two games back.

His backup, Mo Bamba, could help by bringing energy off the bench.

“That’s what Coach harps on me about, just getting out there and just adding a spark,” Bamba said after practice on Tuesday.

Jokic is not the only guy the Magic need to worry about. Jamal Murray had 22 points in Denver’s 91-87 win in Orlando on Nov. 2, and Harris has come alive offensively the past few games, giving Denver more of a scoring punch.

–Field Level Media

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