Nuggets, Magic face off looking to shake off bad losses

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Two teams coming off disappointing losses hope to turn things back in a positive direction when the Denver Nuggets visit the Orlando Magic on Saturday night.

After opening the season with three straight wins, the Nuggets dropped their second straight Thursday night at New Orleans in the opener of their two-game trip.

Coach Michael Malone was so disgusted by the performance in a 122-107 loss to a previously winless team, he emptied his bench early in an attempt to send a message.

Afterward, he made the message verbal.

“I’m embarrassed,” Malone assured reporters after the game. “Tonight was a disappointing, embarrassing effort. I thought guys off the bench played hard, gave effort. We gotta find ways to get our starters to play the same way because they’re not playing like that right now. They’re just not.”

One of the guys who took advantage of the situation was Michael Porter Jr., who saw his first NBA action and responded with 15 points in 21 minutes.

The former high school standout played only three college games at Missouri because of a back injury, then sat out all of last season with the Nuggets to complete his rehab. While active this season, he hadn’t left the bench in Denver’s first four games.

Porter might be needed again Saturday if starting forward Will Barton has to miss more time because of an inflamed toe.

After recording a double-double (19 points, 11 rebounds) in a season-high 37 minutes Tuesday against Dallas, Barton sat out the debacle at New Orleans.

If there was good news for the Nuggets on their short trip, it was in the Magic’s performance in their 123-91 blowout home loss to Milwaukee on Friday night.

The Nuggets, in town a day early after a short flight from New Orleans, were able to watch the game.

The loss was the Magic’s first at home this season after wins over Cleveland and New York. They prevailed those nights despite scoring 94 and 95 points, and Friday were held under 100 for the fifth straight time this season.

But like the Nuggets a night earlier, Orlando might have found a new scoring option in the rubble of Friday’s blowout.

Amile Jefferson, who was promoted from a two-way player to a full-timer earlier in the day, made the most of his six minutes off the bench against the Bucks, hitting both of his field-goal attempts while also finding time for two assists and a rebound.

The former Duke player saw just 68 minutes of NBA action as a rookie last season, and the prospects for 2019-20 weren’t much brighter before Friday’s contract restructuring.

“He’s so deserving,” Magic coach Steve Clifford gushed to reporters before the game. “He’s a hard-working, very reliable, dependable player. Super smart and super competitive. We’ll function well when he’s out there.”

The 26-year-old was inactive for both Magic meetings with the Nuggets last season. Denver swept the season series, including a 124-118 overtime thriller in Orlando last December.

The Nuggets have won their last three games at Orlando.

–Field Level Media

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