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Nuggets eliminated, Celtics in trouble in NBA in-season tournament

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The Orlando Magic dealt the Boston Celtics’ NBA in-season tournament hopes a blow on Friday as the Houston Rockets knocked reigning champions Denver out of the new competition.

Houston’s Jalen Green scored 25 points and Alperen Sengun added 21 points and 15 rebounds for the Rockets, who withstood another monster game from Denver’s two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic to win 105-86.

Jokic scored a season-high 38 points to go with 19 rebounds and eight assists for Denver.

But the reeling Nuggets, still feeling the absence of injured Jamal Murray, shot just 34 perfect from the floor and slumped to their fifth defeat in seven games.

Aaron Gordon embodied Denver’s offensive woes, going 0-for-12 from the field and putting up just two points.

The Nuggets were eliminated in a group that saw the New Orleans Pelicans solidify their hold on the top spot with a 116-106 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green is fouled as he drives between Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon and guard Reggie Jackson. PHOTO: AP

Nuggets coach Michael Malone was more concerned with getting his team back on track after a 1-4 road trip.

“We need to get a win,” Malone said. “We got off to a 9-2 start, everything was great, now… we can’t win a game on the road. We’re kind of getting away from who we are at our core in terms of defence and toughness.”

The Magic, who beat the Nuggets two days ago, bullied Celtics in the second half on the way to a 113-96 victory that pushed Orlando’s winning streak to six games.

Moritz Wagner scored 27 points off the bench to lead the Magic and Paolo Banchero added 23 with seven rebounds.

Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 26 points and Jaylen Brown chipped in 18 – 12 of them in the first quarter.

Brown connected on just two of 17 shots in the last three quarters as the Magic clamped down defensively to hand the Celtics their biggest defeat of the season.

“That’s what we take pride in,” Banchero said of the Magic’s defensive effort. “That’s our calling card.”

The Celtics led by 12 early in the third quarter when Orlando unleashed a 17-0 scoring run.

Orlando opened the fourth on a 10-0 run – capped by Moritz Wagner’s running layup – and rolled from there.