Denver Nuggets @ Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic will face a surprisingly stiff challenge when they return from their road trip Friday night. They’ll play host to the red-hot Denver Nuggets, who are now 9-2 since sending Carmelo Anthony to New York.

The Nuggets have won nine of 11 since dealing Anthony and those two losses came by a combined seven points (one by just one point in overtime). The Nuggets are 41-27 and currently the fifth seed in the west.

The Magic are now 43-26 and seem all but locked in to the four seed in the east.

Denver’s 111-94 victory over the Magic on December 14 may have been the last straw. After the Magic returned home from that road trip, they made their two blockbuster deals. However, that game is virtually irrelevant when it comes to evaluating this one. Denver got 35 points from Anthony while Orlando got 29 from J.J. Redick, who will not play due to his abdominal injury.

Dwight Howard had 21 points and 14 boards in that game.

Denver ranks third in pace (97.9), first in offensive efficiency (109.9) and 17th in defensive efficiency (105.5).

The game will be shown locally on Sun Sports. As always, if you can’t watch the game, you can listen on the radio – in English on AM 580 WDBO and in Spanish on AM 1270 WRLZ.

Tip off from the Amway Center is scheduled for 7:00 pm EST.

The Line: Orlando – 6.0, 205u

Starters:

Denver Nuggets

Nene
Kenyon Martin
Wilson Chandler
Arron Afflalo
Ty Lawson

Orlando Magic

Dwight Howard
Brandon Bass
Hedo Tukoglu
Jason Richardson
Jameer Nelson

Danilo Gallinari has been out with a broken left toe but is expected to play. Arron Afflalo is suffering from a strained left hamstring but played in Wednesday’s win over the Hawks.

J.J. Redick had missed the last four games with a strained lower abdominal and will be out again Friday night.

His injury is not considered serious.

The officials will be Greg Willard, Nick Buchert and Kevin Fehr.

Of Note: The Nuggets remain first in offensive efficiency despite trading Carmelo Anthony and his 25.3 points per game. In fact, without Anthony, who needs a lot of shots to get his points, the Nuggets have become more unselfish and efficient on offense and are playing better team defense.

Opponent To Watch: Ty Lawson, G – Lawson has been playing better as of late but he’s still very inconsistent. Lawson is still the type of guy who can really hurt the Magic. In fact, in his lone game against Orlando earlier this season, he scored 16 points on 50.0% and dished out six assists. Jameer Nelson, Gilbert Arenas and Chris Duhon are going to have the work cut out for them defending Lawson and his backup, former Bobcats and Knicks guard Raymond Felton.

What To Watch For: Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said he was going to play more guys to get the team’s energy level up.

We’ve talked about Orlando’s problem with turnovers and their defensive struggles on the perimeter for quite some time now. Those aren’t the type of problems you want to bring into a matchup with Denver. If you turn the ball over, Denver is going to get out and run (they are first in pace). They can also burn a defense (they’re first in offensive efficiency). Orlando is going to need to play smart – if they play poorly on the perimeter and continue to give the ball away, they aren’t going to win this game.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and ESPN 1080′s Magic Insider (http://espn1080.com). Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter to follow him daily. You can download the HTD app here).

Topics: Aaron Afflalo, Brandon Bass, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Duhon, Denver Nuggets, Dwight Howard, Earl Clark, George Karl, Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, J.j. Redick, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Kenyon Martin, Nene, Orlando Magic, Quentin Richardson, Raymond Felton, Ryan Anderson, Stan Van Gundy, Ty Lawson

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