With the team getting healthy and plenty of upcoming games at home, the Denver Nuggets are poised to make a push up the Western Conference standings. The Northwest Division leaders, though, realize they need to improve their defense and ball-handling if that’s going to happen.
Denver continues a stretch of three straight games at the Pepsi Center Wednesday night when it faces the Southeast Division-best Orlando Magic.
Sparked by the return of Carmelo Anthony(notes), the Nuggets (24-14), who have the league’s second-best home record at 16-3, opened a stretch of six of seven games at the Pepsi Center with a 105-94 victory over Minnesota on Monday.
Anthony, who missed the previous five games due to a bruised right knee, missed four of his first five shots but scored eight points in the final 6:54 and finished with 24.
“Early in the game … it was hard to figure what I can do and what I can’t do,” said Anthony, the NBA’s leading scorer at 29.8 points per game. “I was trying to ease my way into the game.”
While Nuggets coach George Karl was pleased to have Anthony and point guard Chauncey Billups(notes) on the court together for the first time since Dec. 25, Karl remains concerned with his team’s poor defensive play.
Denver is averaging 105.4 points in its last 10 games, but has lost half of those contests while allowing 103.9 per game.
“My big thing is defense,” Karl told the Nuggets’ official Web site. “We’ve got to be more consistent and I’d like to see Melo take the responsibility of leading us in that area, instead of just worrying about leading us in knocking down shots. We’ve got to get serious about the defensive end.”
Turnovers are another area of concern for Denver, which is averaging 16.6 in its last five games.
“Even though our record is good, we’ve got some improving to do as a team,” Anthony said. “… We’ve got that feeling that we’re on the verge of breaking out, breaking loose, getting everybody healthy, getting everybody on the same page.”’
Anthony had a broken bone in his right hand and missed Orlando’s last visit to the Pepsi Center on Jan. 17, when the Magic posted a 106-88 victory to snap a five-game slide in Denver.
Orlando (26-12) won for the first time in four road games Tuesday, defeating Sacramento 109-88 to begin its four-game trip. After shooting 39.6 percent during a season-high four-game skid from Jan. 2-8, the Magic are hitting 51.6 percent in back-to-back victories. Orlando hasn’t won three straight since Dec. 19-23.
“Defensively (Howard) just takes care of everything,” point guard Jason Williams(notes) said after Howard helped Orlando outscore the Kings 33-10 in the fourth quarter. “He erases damn near every mistake the perimeter guys make.”
J.J. Redick(notes) will likely get his third straight start at shooting guard for Orlando on Wednesday with leading scorer Vince Carter(notes) expected to miss his third consecutive game with a left shoulder injury.
Redick had eight points against Sacramento, and has totaled 25 over the last two games.
Billups, who has missed eight games since Dec. 16 due to a strained left groin, is averaging 19.8 points and 6.6 assists in his last 17 games versus Orlando.
Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin(notes) looks to continue his solid play after just missing his fourth straight double-double Monday with eight points and a season-high 15 rebounds. Martin is averaging 15.9 points with 12.0 rebounds in his last nine games.