After a notable nationally televised win Thursday night over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Denver Nuggets and Paul Millsap are hungry for more. And with a 5-1 record for their season-long six-game homestand in sight, Saturday's matchup versus the Orlando Magic is a game the Nuggets want badly.
“We want to change our mindset and this is a game that we feel like we have to get even though we've been on a nice win streak," Millsap said after the team's morning shootaround. "This is a game that solidifies what we've been preaching all year, changing this program around. This is a game we’ve got to get.”
One of Denver's goals this season was to be a better team at home. Last year the Nuggets went just 22-19 at Pepsi Center and a matchup like tonight's against the Magic is one Denver probably drops a season ago. But Denver is significantly more "comfortable" with one another — term both Millsap and Nuggets' coach Michael Malone recited when describing how far Denver has come in just 12 games.— than they were at the onset of the regular season.
“Going into a six-game homestand, we wanted to go 6-0 and obviously Golden State didn't allow that to happen, but it’s been an unbelievable homestand and to follow up a great win against OKC in front of a great fan audience you don’t want to come back and give one away," Malone said. "Orlando’s not going to make it easy. They are a good basketball team. Look at their record, look at how well they're playing on both ends of the floor. But we want to protect our home court and if we can go 5-1 on this homestand, that’s pretty good for us.”
Orlando's 8-4 on the young season, eased past the Phoenix Suns 128-112 Friday night and come to Pepsi Center on a back-to-back.
The Magic are also the league's eighth-best offense, seventh-best defense, and lead the NBA in three-point percentage having converted on 41 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc this season. Orlando's attack is led by Aaron Gordon who's averaging 19.6 points per game — a seven points spike from last year — and is shooting 60 percent from three on 4.2 attempts per game.
“He was a guy that was high-motor, great defensive player, athletic, versatile and you didn't think shooting when you thought about Aaron Gordon," Malone said when talking about where he's seen the 22-year-old improve this season. "And the fact that he's shooting it so confidently, stepping in, you like to see that in players and so the fact that he's gone from 12 to 19 (points per game), he's definitely got to be up there in terms of most improved players in the NBA.”
"This year he's got a new confidence and he's definitely one of the most improved players so far," Millsap said of his former Southeast Division counterpart. "It's going to be a good matchup. Can't let my guard down for one minute."
It's not just Gordon either. Evan Fournier is hitting 43 percent of his threes on almost six attempts per game. D.J. Augustin (who's currently sidelined with a hamstring injury), Jonathon Simmons, and Nikola Vucevic, are all around 40 percent shooters this year from distance as well.
“We'll have to have great closeouts and great discipline in our closeouts," Malone said.
It's been quite the start for Torrey Craig in the G League as the mysterious 26-year-old who played last year in New Zealand before impressing at Summer League with Denver and signing a two-way contract with the Nuggets shortly thereafter, is averaging 25.3 points through three games with the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
Friday night against the Deleware 87ers, Craig registered 37 points on 13-25 shooting to go with eight rebounds and three assists. He's also tallied ten blocks through three games including five in the Skyforce's win over the Lakeland Magic earlier this week.
"For Torrey to get 37 last night in a win and to put up the numbers he put up, I’m happy for him and proud of him because he's a heck of a player," Malone said. "I said it up in Boulder, Torrey Craig’s an NBA player. Right now, there's not a lot of minutes for him here but he's taking advantage of the situation in Sioux Falls.”
“I think he went down there with the right mindset," Malone also noted. "I was talking with Tyler Lydon this morning, some guys view going to the G League as a punishment, you're not worthy to be here, we're going to send you down to the G League. You can't go down there with that mindset. You have to go down there with a mindset like Malik Beasley did last year of I’m going to attack this, I’m going to use this as a great opportunity to get better and showcase my abilities."