Orlando and Denver are in different stages this season. The Magic are a young team building a roster to compete for a title down the road while the Nuggets know their window is open now and have championship aspirations.
Those two phases collide when Denver visits Orlando on Thursday night.
It is the second meeting between the two, with the Nuggets prevailing at home on January 15 when Nikola Jokic hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds. Orlando nearly stole the win behind two of its young stars, Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, a pair who have become the building blocks for the future.
They have added toughness to the roster, which is the culture Magic coach Jamahl Mosley is trying to create.
“I really think it’s a belief system and having them know that any given night, anything can happen,” Mosley said recently. “If you play hard, you give yourself a chance. And obviously, going down and knowing the game plan as you’re walking into the game, that’s a huge factor in it. But our guys knowing that, if we play hard, we give ourselves a chance.”
Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick by Philadelphia in the 2017 draft, has found a home with Orlando. He is averaging 12.7 points a game and 17.5 in February.
The Magic have some veterans, too, including Gary Harris, who was acquired from Denver two years ago in the deal that sent Aaron Gordon to the Nuggets.
Gordon was thought to be the last piece needed when he came to Denver, but soon after Jamal Murray tore the ACL in his left knee and missed more than a year. Murray has been playing at his pre-injury level but is dealing with right knee inflammation that kept him out of Tuesday’s win over Minnesota.
The Nuggets sit atop the Western Conference and hope to strengthen that position by the trade deadline, which comes four hours before Thursday’s tipoff. Denver has been discussing possible deals for backup point guard Bones Hyland, who has not played the last four games while the trade possibilities progress.
Hyland is a popular, energetic second-year player who has been electric and exacerbating at times, but with the Nuggets in serious contention for their first NBA title he could be moved for a veteran piece. His teammates have been supportive and Hyland has not been a distraction while his future is being determined.
“Bones is one of my favorite players, and I think he’s such a great player and person,” Michael Porter Jr. said. “Circumstances make it so that sometimes he’s misunderstood, but me and him have a good connection.
“He’s such a talented player, obviously he should be on the floor. Everyone knows that. I don’t know what the future’s going to hold for him, but I wish he was here. I wish he would stay here, and I wish it could be figured out. Obviously, that’s not up to me. That’s up to the front office.”