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Magic 103, Knicks 108: Another disappointing loss in a must-win game

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The Orlando Magic have been better this season, but they were very bad when it counted on Tuesday.

NBA: Orlando Magic at New York Knicks Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic and New York Knicks have had similar histories of ineptitude recently, but the Magic have been taking strides to crawl out of the NBA’s cellar this season. All of that came into question on Tuesday night, when the Magic squandered a 12-point fourth-quarter lead against a 13-win Knicks team at MSG.

Things seemed pretty buttoned-up after three quarters for the Magic. Sure, we saw the common motif of random players like Henry Ellenson, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier channeling their inner Monstar, but that’s nothing new for a Magic team that seemed destined for the playoffs.

What transpired for the final 12 minutes of the game was a crash course in everything the Magic have done wrong in during this long and grueling rebuild. When coupled with the team’s 110-109 loss to the hapless Bulls on Friday, it seemed to cast doubt on the measurable progress that has been made this season.

In searching for the cause of a loss like this, one can pretty much put all components of the team on a dart board, close their eyes, hit a random target and be able to craft a pretty reasonable paragraph about who or whatever they hit.

So let’s get going. We’ll start with the people who were on the floor.

The Magic bench was outscored 75-7 in the contest. Surely there is a way to check how historically bad that is, but let’s just settle for calling it very bad and move on.

Steve Clifford, who accepted blame for that Magic loss to the Bulls, should take some of the heat here, as the starters were cooking and the bench unit was left out there to shoot their way out of a shared slump. Every Magic starter scored in double figures, and 4-of-the-5 registered a +6 plus/minus rating. By the time the plug had been pulled, there was no pulse to be had.

The award for individual tank captain goes to Terrence Ross in this one. He was 1-of-10 shooting with two turnovers, three fouls, and a -11 in 20 minutes of action. The bench unit was lost without Isaiah Briscoe, who has become increasingly valued this season, and they needed Terrence Ross to be at least average. He was far from that.

There seemed to be a moment amid a fourth quarter that the Knicks won 30-13 that the Magic just collectively realized they were in trouble. New York began the period down 90-78 and promptly went on an 11-1 run, cutting the deficit to just two points.

During that span, the Magic just reverted to old habits. They took difficult shots, refused to make the extra pass, seemed disoriented and without a plan. By the time they knew what hit them, they were playing a very different game from the one that had taken place over the first three quarters.

The defensive presence of Knicks center Mitchell Robinson was felt all night, and never more so than when the Magic appeared rattled late in the game. In the fourth quarter, the Magic attempted only six shots at the rim.

Magic fourth quarter shot chart via ESPN

Overall, it was a night to forget, and with the Magic now a full game out of the playoffs, they need to do so quickly. Up next on the schedule, Orlando will return home to face the Golden State Warriors.

After dropping two easy games to start the post-All-Star stretch, the Magic will have to try to find answers against one of the NBA’s most successful dynasties.