The New York Knicks shot bombed the Orlando Magic away from three-point range Thursday night to send Orlando to its fifth consecutive defeat, the host squad's first such losing streak since January 2007, by a 96-80 final score. Knicks reserves J.R. Smith and Toney Douglas scored 15 points apiece, while All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony posted 19 points, eight rebounds, and three assists. Jason Richardson paced Orlando with 16 points, but shot just 7-of-18 from the floor. In the spotlight once again due to rumors he asked Orlando to fire coach Stan Van Gundy, Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard wilted, tallying just eight points and eight rebounds against the stout defense of Tyson Chandler, who's likely to end Howard's three-year reign as Defensive Player of the Year upon season's end.
This Orlando team needs to find answers, and quickly, before it loses even more ground in the Eastern standings. Thursday's defeat put Orlando in a dead heat with the Atlanta Hawks for the East's sixth playoff seed. And as rumors about Howard and Van Gundy continue to swirl, the task of getting on track will only become more difficult.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
Smith scored 13 of his points in the decisive second quarter, in which New York limited the Magic to 42.9 percent shooting, scored 33 points, and shot 12-of-16 from the floor. Only a buzzer-beating triple from little-used reserve guard Von Wafer prevented Orlando from trailing by 15 points at halftime.
The returns of Howard and Nelson to the lineup did little to help Orlando. Nelson, who sat out Tuesday's loss to the Detroit Pistons due to a sore left calf, missed 11 of his 14 shots, including all eight of his two-point tries. Howard, returning after a two-game absence brought about by back spasms, didn't tally his first points until 3.5 seconds remained in the third quarter. His jam off a feed from J.J. Redick cut New York's lead to 15 points. Orlando's deficit ballooned to as large as 21 points in the final period.
We learned long ago that this Magic team is no longer a championship contender. But when Howard elected to forgo free-agency in 2012, it offered hope that the team could retool in the offseason and load up for one last deep playoff run with Howard. One awful losing streak--in which Orlando's given up 51 percent shooting from the field and 40.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc--has dashed all of those hopes, and instead has Magic fans bracing for a second consecutive one-and-done showing in the postseason.