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Minus Mozgov, Nuggets hold on to beat Magic

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Updated 10 months ago on
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DENVER — After saying goodbye to one of their core players, the Denver Nuggets nearly said so long to a sure victory a few hours later.

Guard Ty Lawson scored 23 points, guard Arron Afflalo had 17 points against his former team, and the Nuggets survived a last-second 3-point attempt to beat the Orlando Magic 93-90 Wednesday night.

Forward J.J. Hickson had 11 points and 10 rebounds for Denver, which won its third game in a row despite nearly blowing a 10-point lead in the final 90 seconds against Orlando.

“We won the game, but I wasn’t happy with the ending,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said.

Center Nikola Vucevic had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and guard Victor Oladipo added 17 points for the Magic, who lost their fourth straight.

Denver’s late lapse came at the end of a busy day for the front office. The Nuggets shook up their roster by trading 7-foot center Timofey Mozgov to the Cleveland Cavaliers for two protected first-round draft picks. Mozgov came to Denver in the deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks in 2011.

Denver vice president and general manager Tim Connelly said Mozgov’s departure isn’t a white flag on the season but acknowledged more changes are possible.

“Despite our struggles, it’s still there for us,” Connelly said of a playoff spot. “No one’s running away with those final couple of spots, but we’re also realistic. We can’t continue to play at the level we have and expect that to be realistic.”

Wednesday’s game might have forced more moves for Connelly had the Magic completed an improbable comeback.

The Nuggets appeared to have things in hand after two free throws by guard Nate Robinson made it 89-79 with 1:32 left, but the Magic rallied. Two 3-pointers and a Vucevic dunk made it 93-87. A steal and 3-pointer by forward Andrew Nicholson made it a one-possession game with 56.4 seconds left.

“We were falling asleep on 3-point shooters and giving guys wide-open looks,” Shaw said. “You’re supposed to tighten up your defense at the end of the game, and we opened up. They got whatever they wanted.”

Two misses by the Nuggets (16-20) gave the Magic a chance to tie it, but guard Evan Fournier, in his first game back in Denver since being traded to Orlando during the offseason, missed a tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“Evan got a look, it just didn’t fall,” Vucevic said. “Those are the type of situations you have to learn from.”

The Magic (13-25) has suffered tough losses throughout the season but has been in most games.

“I told guys we have to be OK grinding games out, and this is one we continued to fight and gave ourselves a chance until the end,” Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn said.

Denver’s offense sputtered after the first quarter, but its defense was solid. Orlando shot just 39.8 percent from the field but managed to stay close for most of the night.

The Magic led twice for a total of 38 seconds, the last time on a floating jumper by guard Elfrid Payton midway through the third quarter. The Nuggets scored the next 11 points to go ahead 63-53.

The Magic got within 67-64 early in the fourth quarter, but five straight points by Robinson helped Denver extend the lead to 76-68 with 5:52 left. Afflalo made it 80-70 with a jumper against his former team.

“It didn’t feel strange, but it’s always a little different to face your former teammates who you went to battle with for a few years,” he said.

The lead was six when the Magic got a steal and a fast break. Oladipo missed a layup and Lawson hit a 3-pointer on the other end to make it 85-76 with 2:26 left.

NOTES: Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said he would experiment with his starting center position. Rookie C Jusuf Nurkic got the start against the Magic and C/F J.J. Hickson came off the bench. Nurkic finished with eight points and four rebounds, Hickson with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Shaw indicated he would switch things around to find the right fit for both players. … Orlando F Channing Frye was active despite elbow and triceps injuries. He played 19 scoreless minutes. … Nuggets G Ty Lawson left practice Tuesday because of a bruised knee but was a full participant in the pregame shootaround, then played 34 minutes. … The Magic played 22 of their first 38 games on the road. Orlando has three more games remaining on its Western Conference road swing.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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