Knicks Stifle Dwight Howard, Magic As New York Hands Orlando Fifth Straight LossBasketball, Sports — By Allen Levin on April 5, 2012 at 10:42 pm Tweet
With the playoffs looming, nothing seems to be going in the Orlando Magic’s favor right now.
The Magic have been bitten by the injury bug with Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson and Jameer Nelson all missing time in the last week. Then, there is the public spout heating up between Magic (32-23) coach Stan Van Gundy and its franchise cornerstone, Dwight Howard.
And this all comes in the midst of an ill-timed losing streak, which was extended to five games Thursday night after a 96-80 beat down from the New York Knicks (28-27) at the Amway Center.
Van Gundy expressed the rough patch that’s currently surrounding his team after the Magic lost to the Knicks for the second time in the last nine days.
“We’re in a bad time right now. We’re not the deepest team in the world anyway. We got guys hurt, we’re not playing well at all, we’ve got no rhythm.”
Orlando’s recent struggles come right as Van Gundy publicly exposed Howard early Thursday, saying his All-Star Center wanted him fired and even went as far as to say that someone in management confirmed Howard’s desire for a coaching change.
“I know he has,” Van Gundy told reporters before Thursday night’s game, alluding to Dwight asking Magic management to fire him. “That’s just the way it is. Again, I’ve been dealing with that all year. It’s not anything real bothersome. You go out and do your job.”
Despite the drama surrounding yet another Magic media frenzy, Orlando is just trying to snap out of its recent lull.
However, the Knicks wouldn’t allow that, getting five players in double figures Thursday night for their second straight rout over Orlando.
Carmelo Anthony led all scorers with 19 points, to go along with eight rebounds and three assists. JR Smith and Toney Douglas came off the bench to score 15 points a piece, while Tyson Chandler chipped in a double-double with 12 points and 12 boards, and Landry Fields added 10 points for the Knicks.
But it wasn’t just the Knicks high powered offense, which shot a scorching 52 percent (13-for-25) from the three-point line, that helped them blowout the Magic. It was actually their strong defensive play that carried them to their third victory in the last five games.
New York held Orlando to 41.7 percent shooting from the field, including nine-of-24 from beyond the arc in the game, while forcing them into 14 turnovers to disrupt their offensive flow.
However, it was Tyson Chandler’s defense on Howard, who missed the last two games because of back spasms, that really made the difference. Chandler noticeably outplayed his counterpart, limiting the widely considered best center in the game to just eight points and eight rebounds in the contest.
It was Howard’s lowest-point total since he was limited to eight points, ironically, also against the Knicks, back on January 16th.
To put things in perspective, Howard was held scoreless in the first half and didn’t score his first points of the contest until a he got a wide-open dunk with 3.5 seconds left in the third quarter.
“I thought we did a great job team wise. I thought my teammates did an excellent job of taking him (Howard) out of a rhythm and allowing me to play individual defense,” Chandler said. “I think we have been able to take him out of his comfort zone and make things difficult for him by not giving him any easy shots.”
While the Magic were struggling to hit shots, the Knicks were having a field day, especially from the perimeter. New York broke things open in the second quarter, converting six-of-nine shots from deep to finish the first half nine-for-15 from downtown.
“It broke the game wide open. Two of the threes were off missed layups. I don’t know how many layups we missed today…We just couldn’t get our defense set in the second quarter,” Van Gundy said.
The Knicks were able to outscore the Magic 33-23 in the second quarter, while Anthony, Smith, Iman Shumpert and Steve Novak combined to go eight-of-10 from three-point range, helping New York take a 56-44 lead into halftime.
From there, it wasn’t really a question of who was in control as the Magic never threatened, 10 points being the closest they would get the rest of the way out.
“We gotta say together. We’re having a tough stretch. Shots are not falling, our defense has not been great, but we just got to stick together. We’re going through one of the toughest times in the season right now; there’s a lot going on as a team, and we just got to stay together,” Howard said. “We’re going to work harder, we’re going to play harder, and we’re going to find a way before the playoffs come to get it right. That’s the game plan.”
Orlando played without Ryan Anderson, its second-leading scorer, for the second consecutive game as the big man continued to nurse a sprained ankle. Even with Anderson out and Howard struggling, the Magic still got five players in double figures, led by Jason Richardson’s 16 points.
Glen Davis continued his recent string of strong play, posting 15 points and seven rebounds in his third consecutive start. Davis had a career-high 31 points in Orlando’s loss to Detroit Tuesday night, and is averaging 21.3 points and 11 boards over the last three contests.
Von Wafer came off the bench to score 13 points, while Nelson and J.J. Redick each added 10 points for the Magic.
Adding to the Magic’s injury problems, Hedo Turkoglu took an inadvertent elbow from Anthony late in the second quarter, causing a pool of blood on the court before leaving the game. Turkoglu received three stitches and wouldn’t return to the game.
Despite all of Orlando’s recent woes, Van Gundy is confident his team can get back on track.
“I think we will. We’ve got three weeks and we’ve got tough guys in there, and I think we’ll be fine. I think we’ll get back to playing well,” Van Gundy said. “There isn’t one guy in the NBA who hasn’t been through this. When you get in these stretches, it feels like it’s never going to end, but it always does. The only thing I said to them that’s got to be our only focus is going and playing better.”
Even with the five-game losing streak, Orlando has been playing well. Not counting the two losses to New York, the Magic have only lost by an average of four points, and that has mostly been with Howard, Anderson and Nelson on the bench with injuries.
“We go up to Detroit, we don’t have three starters…our three best offensive players in the past month. Take any team in the NBA, take their three best offensive players away. It’s five games in a row, but you can overstate it too. You’ve got to put it in perspective,” Van Gundy said. “This is very difficult right now, but we can pull out of it.”
The Magic will look to do just that when they head to Philadelphia Saturday night to face the sliding 76ers.