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Orlando Magic 111, New York Knicks 99

Behind 33 points from Dwight Howard and tight second-half defense, the Orlando Magic dealt the New York Knicks their fourth straight defeat, 111-99, at Madison Square Garden. All five Magic starters scored in double figures, but more importantly, Orlando shut down a Knicks offense that hung 59 points on the board in the first half to just 40 after intermission. Knicks power forward Amar'e Stoudemire had a miserable game from start to finish, shooting 6-of-20 from the floor for 13 points; New York simply didn't get enough offensive help from other sources, despite Toney Douglas' surprising 17-point turn off the bench, to keep up with a balanced, potent Magic attack.

Orlando got off to a hot start, building a 10-point lead midway through the first quarter, but the complexion of the game changed when Douglas checked in midway through the period. He scored 8 points on 3-of-3 shooting in his first stint, helping New York to close the gap to 28-25 after one quarter. Indeed, Douglas seemed to open the floodgates for New York to start cranking in threes--they shot 9-of-17 from deep in the first half--the foremost reason they took a 59-55 lead into intermission.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 88 126.6 56.6% 32.9 33.3 17.1
Knicks 91 109.1 47.6% 22.6 22.9 12.1
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

The Magic worked their way back into the game with stiff third-quarter defense, which drastically cut down on the Knicks' open scoring chances. New York shot 7-of-23 in the period for 19 points, figures which include a dubious goaltending call on Howard which awarded two points for Carmelo Anthony.

The defense helped, for sure, but a 7-0 run by the Magic during the third brought them back to within a point of the Knicks and erased their biggest lead in just 2:15. The teams traded buckets for a few trips before Orlando took control in the fourth quarter behind Howard.

And there's the biggest takeaway from this game, at least for me: Orlando, with a tenuous, one-point lead on the road against a talented team, did not mess around when it needed to close the game. It played through its franchise cornerstone on nearly every trip. That's important, as Orlando has neglected Howard late in close games throughout the season. In the fourth, Howard scored 11 of his 33 points on 1-of-2 shooting from the floor and 9-of-11 at the foul line.

In Jared Jeffries and Ronny Turiaf, the Knicks have two players who can handle Howard better than most in the post, but with New York trailing, coach Mike D'Antoni elected to play Stoudemire at center in order to get more offense. His idea, a sound one in theory, backfired. Howard managed to get deep position and gave the Knicks no choice but to foul him.

Due to all the foul shots, the fourth quarter won't exactly make Howard's season highlight reel, but perhaps his work earlier will. 11-of-15 shooting from the floor for Howard as he chewed up the Knicks with a series of back-to-basket moves. There ought to be no argument anymore about his offensive game: he is well nigh unstoppable on that end most nights.

His teammates, or at least the ones in the starting lineup, did more than their fair share. Jameer Nelson, who tore the Knicks up with his drives to the basket in the previous meeting between the teams, spent tonight bombing away from the perimeter off the dribble, scoring 19 points on 4-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc. Hedo Turkoglu impressed me even more than Nelson, with a 16-point, 11-rebound effort to complement Howard.