For one brief moment Tuesday, Orlando Magic point guard Anfernee Hardaway hung his head, seemingly acknowledging that it was going to be one of those nights for him.
Not so fast.
Hardaway delivered a crucial three-point play and a jump shot in the closing minutes, complementing another stellar performance by center Shaquille O'Neal as the Magic beat Denver 95-88.
Orlando (35-23) snapped a two-game losing streak and avenged a 98-89 loss Friday at Denver, and held on to fourth place in the Eastern Conference. It also won its seventh straight at home.
O'Neal had 29 points and 16 rebounds, while forward Dennis Scott had 17 and Hardaway had 12. Reserve center Tree Rollins had a season-high eight points.
The Magic seemed sluggish at the outset, but Scott tied the score at 9 with a three-pointer. After Denver took an 11-9 lead, guard Nick Anderson hit a three, Scott followed with his second three-pointer and power forward Larry Krystkowiak capped the 8-0 run on a layup.
Denver point guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf made two free throws, setting the stage for the defining moment of the quarter for the Magic. Hardaway beat Abdul-Rauf and floated toward the basket for what should have been an uncontested dunk. Instead, he lost control of the ball in midair, missed the shot and hung his head.
The Nuggets (29-29) then went on a 12-4 run, taking a 29-21 lead with 38 seconds left. The fans still had something to cheer about. Forward Brian Williams, an underachieving Orlando first-round pick dealt to Denver during the off-season, committed two personal fouls.
In the waning seconds of the quarter, forward Rodney Rogers was called for goaltending on an O'Neal hook, then Scott came up with a steal in the backcourt and dunked it to cut the Denver lead to 29-25.
The Magic trailed 32-27 when Scott Skiles drove for a layup around Williams, igniting a 7-0 run capped by a three-point play by Scott. The Magic couldn't pull away until reserve guard Anthony Bowie stole an outlet pass and flipped a behind-the-back pass to O'Neal for a thunderous dunk over center Dikembe Mutombo.
Skiles followed with a three, and O'Neal hit two free throws for a 47-40 lead. It was shortlived, as Abdul-Rauf rallied the Nuggets with a couple of jumpers, one over his old LSU teammate, O'Neal.
Hardaway finally got a shot to fall, a driving layup that gave the Magic a 51-50 lead at the half. Anderson suffered a jammed jaw late in the half and was lost for the game.
A Skiles jumper gave Orlando a 61-56 lead, but guards Bryant Stith and Kevin Brooks combined for nine points in a 16-2 run that catapulted the Nuggets to a 72-63 lead. O'Neal ended a 3:16 drought with a layin and Krystkowiak hit a driving layup to cut the deficit to 72-67 entering the final quarter.
Scott hit two jumpers to start the quarter, but Abdul-Rauf answered to keep the Magic at bay until Rollins dunked and hit a baby hook over Williams to tie the game at 76 with 8:15 left.
O'Neal, back in the game moments later, tipped in a high-bounding miss for a 78-76 lead. After an O'Neal free throw, Denver scored six straight points to go up 82-79.
Rollins, replacing O'Neal briefly, again rallied the Magic. He scored inside, drew a foul from guard Reggie Williams and completed the three-point play to tie.
O'Neal returned and hit a free throw for an 83-82 lead, but Denver regained the advantage on forward LaPhonso Ellis' jump hook. Hardaway then posted up Stith, drew the foul and got the basket when Mutombo was called for goaltending. Hardaway hit the free throw, and then made a jumper for a 90-84 lead with 1:54 to play.
Notes: Dennis Scott was to have seen his father, Dennis Sr., tonight when the Magic play at Philadelphia. "He was supposed to be sitting in the stands," he said. But his father died of a drug overdose last week. Scott will attend the funeral Thursday. Professional wrestler/actor Hulk Hogan was courtside Tuesday.