DENVER (AP) – By sprawling on the ground after a loose ball, Kenneth Faried helped the Denver Nuggets steal a win.
Then again, his teammates expect nothing less from the high-energy forward.
Granted, Faried had an incredible night, scoring 19 points and grabbing 19 rebounds to lead the Nuggets to a 108-105 win over the slumping Orlando Magic on Wednesday. But that hustle play may have been the biggest contribution by the player nicknamed “Manimal.”
Without it, well, who knows how this one would’ve turned out?
Trailing by nine early in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets roared back and tied the game at 99 on an alley-oop dunk by Faried. But he was just getting warmed up.
When Andre Iguodala missed a free throw on the next possession, Faried lunged for the ball on the floor and scooped it up, quickly calling time out.
Out of the break, Ty Lawson converted a three-point play with 1:27 remaining that gave the Nuggets the lead for good and sent them to their third straight win.
After the game, Danilo Gallinari made sure Faried’s effort wasn’t forgotten.
“Gallo came up to me and said, `Thank you,'” Faried said. “Those are the plays that do go sometimes unnoticed. Tonight, it didn’t.”
No, it didn’t at that.
This game had shades of Minnesota written all over it, too.
A week ago, the Nuggets were coming off an emotional victory as they snapped the Los Angeles Clippers’ 17-game win streak. But they stumbled at home to a depleted Timberwolves squad.
Three days ago, Denver beat the Lakers in Los Angeles. Only, the Nuggets were on the ropes against the reeling Magic.
Faried turned to Lawson on the bench and simply said, “This can’t happen.
“We can’t have this letdown,” Faried recounted. “Not tonight. We were all locked in and had to do what we had to do. We were able to escape with a win.”
This was just like Nuggets coach George Karl expected – the Magic taking his team to the wire.
These days, Orlando just can’t catch a break since Glen Davis went out with a sprained left shoulder. It was the Magic’s 10th straight loss in the big man’s absence.
“They’re not as bad as their record,” Karl said. “They’ve had a lot of games similar to tonight, where in the fourth quarter they were close to winning the game and the momentum somehow slapped them and they lost the game.
“I’m disappointed a little bit with the energy early in the game.”
And the Magic feel the same way about what happened late.
“It’s tough to lose games, no matter how many you lose in a row, even if it’s just one,” said Jameer Nelson, who led the team with 20 points. “Things could have went differently out there. We just have to stick together.”
Before walking out of the arena and to the team bus, Arron Afflalo stopped by the Nuggets locker room to chat with his former teammates.
“They played well down the stretch I guess and did what they needed to do to win,” said Afflalo, who finished with 12 points before fouling out.
The Magic had 27 fouls called against them, while the Nuggets only had seven. Not that anyone wanted to really address that.
“I’m not going to comment on the fouls. I’m not going to comment on the refs,” Nelson said. “Both teams played hard.”
Afflalo returned to Pepsi Center to applause – at least for introductions. Soon after that he was treated like any other opposing player and constantly heckled. When Afflalo made his first basket, someone screamed, “Who?!”
Afflalo was once a fan favorite, too, especially after signing a long-term contract. But the Nuggets saw an opportunity to upgrade the squad in the offseason and dealt Afflalo, along with Al Harrington, to Orlando as part of the blockbuster deal that landed Dwight Howard with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In exchange, Denver wound up with Iguodala, who hit a big 3-pointer late when the Magic were threatening to pull away. The Nuggets also tried to pick up big man Nikola Vucevic in the deal, but team executive Masai Ujiri couldn’t get him included in the trade.
Vucevic showed Nuggets fans why he was so coveted, scoring 10 points and grabbing 14 rebounds for the Magic. He also missed a dunk late in the game before fouling out.
Seeing Afflalo leave town was difficult for Karl, who constantly relied on the guard’s easygoing demeanor during Afflalo’s three seasons in Denver.
Said Karl before the game: “Someone taught (Afflalo) at a very early age that winning is why you play. It’s very deep in his basketball soul. You play the game to win. It’s not numbers. It’s not stats. It’s to win.”
Asked before the game if he was sweating the losing streak, coach Jacque Vaughn turned into a philosopher.
“To be able to fight adversity and see how you respond is a true test of a man’s character, which ultimately is his destiny,” Vaughn said. “That is who you are. Life is what you make of it. That is your own destiny. It’s a great opportunity to forge your own destiny.”
NOTES: Magic G J.J. Redick had 17 points. … Lawson finished with 19 points while reserve Corey Brewer gave the Nuggets an early spark, scoring 11 of his 16 points in the second quarter when the team was struggling.
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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