Nuggets survive OT vs. Magic for seventh consecutive win

ORLANDO, Fla. – It looked like the extended road trip and the injuries had finally caught up with the Nuggets, but they weathered a 3-point barrage to extend their winning streak to seven.

Jamal Murray buried a clutch 3-pointer in overtime and Nikola Jokic hit a step-back baseline jumper as the Nuggets defeated the Magic 124-118 despite Orlando making 20 3-pointers. Murray finished with a game-high 31 points in 46 minutes and Jokic tallied 12 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds as the Nuggets improved to 17-7 (8-4 on the road).  Denver had just 15 victories on the road all of last season.

The Nuggets caught a massive break late in overtime when the officials appeared to miss Murray’s foot slipping out of bounds before two crucial free throws. The Nuggets were 23-of-37 from the line, while the Magic were just 8-of-8. Orlando was led by former Nugget Evan Fournier (26 points), who was 6-for-10 from 3-point range.

Boxscore

The Nuggets had a chance to win it in regulation, but they blew a defensive coverage on Terrance Ross, who buried a wide-open 3-pointer to tie it at 112. Murray’s runner at the buzzer rimmed out to force overtime.

Tied at 103, Jokic found Juancho Hernangomez deep in the paint for an easy layup, and the Nuggets matched the effort on the defensive end by forcing a shot-clock violation on the Magic’s ensuing possession. A Jokic layup gave the Nuggets a 107-103 lead.

Wednesday’s game tested the Nuggets’ depth yet again as they were without guard Gary Harris because of the hip injury suffered in Monday’s game at Toronto. Torrey Craig got the start for Harris, who was day to day, in part to keep both the starting unit and bench unit intact.

Denver’s bench unit scored 44 points, and the Nuggets outscored the Magic 56-36 in the paint.

The Nuggets trailed 79-73 with just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter before Monte Morris checked in and spearheaded a 15-7 run. He scored or assisted on every basket of the run, including facilitating three consecutive 3-pointers. The Nuggets, led by Morris and their bench unit, took an 88-86 lead heading into the fourth.

A year after finishing last in 3-point defense, the Nuggets entered Wednesday with the NBA’s best perimeter defense. Nuggets coach Michael Malone said that though the team hasn’t completely restructured its defensive approach, there have been tweaks that yielded positive results.

“Most NBA teams keep their bigs down the floor in pick-and-rolls to guard the 3-point line,” Malone said. “We’re one of the few teams, maybe four or five teams in the NBA that are up and aggressive. … To do it the way we’re doing it requires unbelievable effort, commitment, discipline, closeouts, runoffs, whatever it may be.

Malone knew to be concerned heading into Wednesday’s game. Not only did the Nuggets rout the Magic less than two weeks ago, he was wary that recent wins over Portland and Toronto might have them complacent.

“But the whole thing for us is trying to stay hungry and enjoying the process, enjoying the wins, but not forgetting why you’re winning,” Malone said, citing their defense. “And that’s what we try to do with our guys all the time. Making sure we have the appropriate respect for who we’re playing.”

It was hardly an inspiring first-half performance on the defensive end for the Nuggets, who were up 56-54 after the Magic shot 56 percent from the field. Orlando also got loose from the 3-point line, burying  8-of-19 tries from long range. Malone called Aaron Gordon an X-factor prior to the game, and he found his rhythm for 17 points both in the lane and from the arc.

The Nuggets countered with a strong half from Murray, whose 15 points on 12 shots in the first half partially made up for the loss of Harris. His growing chemistry with Jokic in the two-man game may have to serve as the foundation of the Nuggets’ offense while they await key players getting healthy. Jokic logged eight assists over the two first two quarters, the prettiest coming on a no-look dish to Hernangomez for an early 3-pointer.

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