Magic spoil Aaron Gordon’s Orlando homecoming with stunning comeback

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Magic cast a spell on the Nuggets’ offense and by the time it was over recorded a stunning comeback win here Wednesday night.

In the same city where the Nuggets made their memorable postseason run two seasons ago, the Magic, who trailed for nearly the entire game, seized a 108-103 win. Will Barton’s 3-point heave to try and tie the game with 2.9 seconds left didn’t come close, and the Nuggets fell to 10-11.

Led by 24 points from shifty guard Cole Anthony, the lowly Magic cut a rug inside the Nuggets’ paint. Orlando pasted the Nuggets inside, finishing with a 66-38 edge.

The loss spoiled Aaron Gordon’s Orlando homecoming. The former Magic foundational piece finished with 17 points and eight rebounds for the Nuggets. Nikola Jokic added 18 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists, but ’s defense let down.

Long-time Nugget Gary Harris added 11 points, three assists and three steals in disarming his former team.

The Magic scored 61 points in the second half, chiseling away at Denver’s one-time 16-point lead.

For a team already snake-bitten, Wednesday brought even more depressing news. Nuggets guards Austin Rivers and Bones Hyland both entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and are expected to miss several games as a result. Hyland didn’t test positive for COVID, according to a league source, but was forced to quarantine due to a close contact.

The only healthy guard options left were Monte Morris, Will Barton, Facu Campazzo and little-used Markus Howard. Morris (22 points) and Barton (14) offered their typical production, but the Nuggets’ depth got exposed after that.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he spoke with president of basketball operations Tim Connelly on Wednesday about potentially bringing someone up from the G League.

“While you’re out so many smalls and wings, it’s definitely a conversation that we need to have,” he said.

The Nuggets were either content with their lead or unconcerned with their opponent.

The Magic blitzed the Nuggets on a 22-10 run in the third quarter that shaved the deficit to just four points. Orlando’s push was built on comical turnovers and lackadaisical interior defense. On more than one occasion, Malone called a fiery timeout to question the defensive rotation or address a breakdown. Overall, the Magic dropped 32 points in the quarter alone and trailed only 83-79 entering the fourth quarter.

With the proper context, Malone wasn’t dismayed by his team’s 10-10 start.

“To be honest, I love where we’re at,” Malone said before the game. “That may sound surprising to some, but I think when you really take into account everything that we’ve gone through and are going through in these first 20 games to be 10-10 …”

The Nuggets ran a clinic in the first half against the Magic, carrying a 63-47 lead into the break. Jokic dictated the flow and dominated inside, posting 12 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.  Per usual, he picked apart mismatches and set his teammates up for success.

There was almost a concerted effort to get Gordon rolling given what the game meant to him. Gordon scored the first basket of the game, then attacked with his trademark intensity.

On one occasion late in the first quarter, he spun hard along the baseline and jammed over Magic forward Chuma Okeke. Gordon basked in the dunk for several minutes, carrying a broad smile with him even as he went to the bench.

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