The Orlando Magic held off a late rally by the New York Knicks to win, 110-103, for their eighth victory in their last 10 tries. Rashard Lewis responded positively to his two days of rest, with 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting, including 4-of-10 on three-pointers. In a vintage Mister Fourth Quarter performance, Hedo Turkoglu scored 15 of Orlando's 24 in the fourth period, finishing with 20 overall. Orlando's team effort was enough to overcome the offensive explosion by New York's Quentin Richardson, who scored 33 points.
Tonight's game was not one for the time capsule, as the helter-skelter Knicks looked even more disorganized and discordant than usual. Much of that is due to the poor effort of starting shooting guard Larry Hughes, who--in comic fashion--missed all 5 of his field goal attempts and committed 3 turnovers before being forced to leave due to a sore toe. The Knicks were a much better team with him off the floor, moving the ball better and working to get reasonably open looks. They missed more often than not, but rebounded those misses at an absurdly high rate. Even without David Lee, their leading rebounder, New York snared 37% of its misses. Dwight Howard, who fouled out in 30 minutes, only managed 7 rebounds.
Poor effort on the boards aside, Orlando should feel okay about this win. The Knicks are a scrappy bunch, and it took a simply ridiculous night from Richardson for them to even have a chance to win. The Magic's three offensive options after Howard--that'd be Rafer Alston, Lewis, and Turkoglu--took turns carrying the team: Lewis had 16 points in the second quarter, scoring on three-pointers and in the low post; Alston scored 10 points in 7 third-period minutes, weaving through a porous Knick defense and making the most of a few spot-up three-point opportunities; and Turkoglu did his 2007/2008 thing in the fourth period as the rest of the team went cold. Throw in solid production from Courtney Lee (13 points, 4 assists, 1 huge tomahawk slam, 1 ridiculous fast-break spin move) and Marcin Gortat (5 points and a team-high 8 rebounds in relief of Howard) and you have a recipe for something approximating success.
More success, though, will come when Orlando makes a concerted effort to get Howard the ball. Against an undersized team like the Knicks, Dwight should get the ball on every possession. Tonight, he only got 8 shots, the fewest of any Magic starter. I give the Knicks, particularly Jared Jeffries, a ton of credit for scrapping and bumping the big fella down low, making it difficult for him to get comfortable or for his teammates to get him the ball. The obvious answer is to throw a lob for him to dunk, but the Magic went away from that play after two failed attempts. The first try actually succeeded, with Turk throwing a gorgeous alley for Dwight to oop, but the officials inexplicably and incorrectly whistled Dwight for offensive basket interference. The second time, Turk threw the lob despite the fact that Dwight was in the middle of a crowd, and Jeffries was able to tip the lob to a teammate, igniting a fast-break.
The stats, as I presented them, exist in a vacuum. The team's actual effort left something to be desired. The Magic were in control for most of the game, but coach Stan Van Gundy looked as livid as ever as the Knicks grabbed offensive rebound after offensive rebound. Orlando did not look like a team that was willing to play its hardest, but ultimately its superior talent won it the game. Hopefully, this close call will encourage the players to try a bit harder from here on out. The Knicks get another crack at Orlando this Monday, and the third time--recall that they nearly upset the Magic at Madison Square Garden earlier this year--might be the charm for them. More vigilance and more pride on the Magic's part should put them away. In the meantime, it's back to the drawing board to find ways to get Dwight the ball more often.