DENVER — Frustration oozed throughout the Orlando Magic locker room late Tuesday night.
Stan Van Gundy dressed down his players after the final buzzer.
Later, Jameer Nelson sat at his locker, read the postgame box score, crumpled up the piece of paper and threw it to the ground.
In a postgame interview, Dwight Howard all but called out Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis by name for their terrible defense against Carmelo Anthony.
The Orlando Magic had just concluded their dreadful West Coast road trip with a 111-94 loss to the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. The Magic performed just as poorly as they did in Portland, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.
"Our offense died in the second half of every one and we play no defense," Van Gundy told reporters. "We play no defense whatsoever. On this trip, we were one of the worst defensive teams in the league. If that doesn't change, we will be a very bad basketball team."
On Tuesday, their defense was even thinner than the Rocky Mountain air.
Carmelo Anthony scored 35 points, shredding Lewis or Carter in the process, often blowing by them with ease.
The Nuggets shot 53.8 percent as a whole.
"We've got to play defense," Howard said. "That's it. It's got to be everybody. Our wings got to do a better job not allowing their man just to get to the rim every play. It puts a lot of pressure on the bigs. It's hard for the big guys to really help like we want when a guy takes one dribble and he's at the rim. It's very tough.
"I like blocking shots, but if a guy is one dribble in and the ball's up, and I'm over on the other side, I can't fly over there. I don't have a cape in real life."
The Magic have lost five of their last six games, a freefall that has prompted their fans to call for a major trade and the players themselves unable to explain why their defensive intensity has dropped off so badly.
"I'm part of the problem, so I can't really tell you what it is," Nelson said. "If I could, I would stop it. We just have to figure it out. It's a long season, and we shouldn't push the panic button or anything like that. But at the same time, we have to play with a little sense of urgency, especially with our intensity and our defense."
To be fair, the Magic entered the game without their two best wing defenders, Quentin Richardson and Mickael Pietrus. It was a recipe for disaster as they faced Anthony, one of the sport's top scorers at small forward.
Richardson sat out because of a left-elbow injury. Pietrus was a late scratch from the rotation because of a left-knee injury.
That left Lewis or Vince Carter to guard Anthony one-on-one.
It didn't work out well. It was obvious from the outset that Lewis and Carter couldn't stop Anthony from driving to the hoop.
But the Magic (16-9) competed with the Nuggets (15-9) for the first three and a half quarters.
The game featured 18 lead changes.
Orlando actually led 88-87 with 8:31 to play, but Arron Afflalo hit a jumper to put Denver ahead for good.
The collapse was swift and total.
The Nuggets outscored the Magic 22-6 the rest of the way.
Van Gundy wouldn't accept fatigue or absences of Richardson and Pietrus as an excuse.
"It had nothing to do with any of that," Van Gundy said. "We're finding every B.S. excuse in the book right now."
Indeed, Denver won despite injuries to point guard Chauncey Billups and bigs Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin.
"Defensively, we made good plays all night long," Nuggets coach George Karl said.
The Magic did not.
That was the point Van Gundy made to his players afterward.
"He was really upset," Lewis said. "He has a right to be. Everybody in the locker room should be upset."
There were only two bright spots for Orlando: J.J. Redick's career-high 29 points and Howard's 21-point, 14-rebound night.
After it ended, Howard spoke about wanting to go home to Central Florida.
The Magic finished their trip out West with a 1-3 record.
Once again, he was asked if he, as one of the co-captains, needs to say something to his teammates.
"There's no need to fire anybody up," Howard said. "You've got to fire yourself up. If you want to win a championship, you've got to be dedicated. I can only do my part and I do my part every day. It's just got to be everybody has to be on the same page."
Asked if his team is tough as it needs to be, he offered a three-word answer.
He said, "I don't know."
Read Josh Robbins' blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to our Orlando Magic newsletter at OrlandoSentinel.com/joinus.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun