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Magic spoils Aaron Gordon’s return to Orlando with stunning comeback

ORLANDO, Fla – The Magic cast a spell on the Nuggets’ offense and by the time that ended they recorded a superb comeback win here on Wednesday night.

In the same city where the Nuggets had their memorable playoff streak two seasons ago, the Magic, who trailed most of the game, earned a 108-103 victory. Will Barton’s 3-point lift to try to level the game with 2.9 seconds left came close, and the Nuggets fell to 10-11. Their next test will be on Saturday in New York against the Knicks.

Led by 24 points from devious goaltender Cole Anthony, the modest Magic cut a carpet in the paint of the Nuggets. Orlando stuck the Nuggets on the inside, finishing with a 66-38 advantage.

“We defended in the first quarter,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “After that, we didn’t defend anyone. … When you have as many guys as we have, we have to find a way to use our defense as an anchor, trust our defense and right now we can’t do that.

The loss marred Aaron Gordon’s return to Orlando. The former Magic Founder finished with 17 points and eight rebounds for the Nuggets in his first game in Orlando. Nikola Jokic added 18 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists, but the Denver defense gave up.

Longtime nugget Gary Harris added 11 points, three assists and three steals to disarm his former team.

The Magic scored 61 points in the second half, knocking out Denver’s 16-point lead at halftime. Denver collected just 40 points in the second half.

For an already snake-bitten team, Wednesday brought even more depressing news. Nuggets goaltenders Austin Rivers and Bones Hyland have both entered NBA health and safety protocols and are expected to miss several games as a result. Hyland has not tested positive for COVID, according to a league source, but was forced to self-quarantine due to close contact.

The only healthy custody options that remained were the little used Monte Morris, Barton, Facu Campazzo and Markus Howard. Morris (22 points) and Barton (14) offered their typical production, but the Nuggets’ depth was on display after that.

Malone said he spoke to basketball operations president Tim Connelly on Wednesday about bringing someone in from the G League.

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

The Nuggets were either happy with their lead or indifferent to their opponent.

The Magic bombarded the Nuggets on a 22-10 streak in the third quarter, which reduced the deficit to just four points. Orlando’s push was built on comedic turnovers and nonchalant inside defense. On more than one occasion, Malone has called for a fiery time-out to challenge defensive rotation or remedy an outage. Overall, the Magic dropped 32 points in the quarter alone and trailed just 83-79 at the start of the fourth quarter.

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

“To be honest I love where we are at,” Malone said before the game. “It might seem surprising to some, but I think when you really factor in everything we’ve been through and are going through in those first 20 games at 10-10…”

The Nuggets hosted a first-half clinic against the Magic, leading 63-47 at the break. Jokic dictated the flow and dominated inside, posting 12 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. As usual, he put the discrepancies aside and prepared his teammates for success.

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