Orlando had already lost four in a row and looked a mess before its “Dwightmare” began on Thursday — when coach Stan Van Gundy threw Dwight Howard under the bus because Howard had spent the year trying to throw Van Gundy under the bus. It was a struggling team now distracted by a soap opera with its star and coach.
Those to factors — combined with a surging Knicks team growing in confidence — led to a perfect storm and Orlando getting routed 96-80 at the hands of New York. The loss dropped the Magic back into a tie with Atlanta for the fifth/sixth seed in the East. Meaning no homecourt in the first round of the playoffs. The Magic are just 2.5 games up on the seventh-seed Sixers — and the Magic do not want to slide back to the seven or eight seed and get the Heat or Bulls in the first round.
Which means they need to figure things out quickly.
They thought getting Howard and Jameer Nelson back from injury would spark the offense again, but it didn’t — the Magic shot just 41.7 percent. They did okay from three but they scored at an efficiency of just 94.9 (points per 100 possessions). Howard had 2 points through three quarters. Which is better than Nelson did inside the arc (0-8).
The Magic offense has been pretty pedestrian this season, they are 16th in the league in efficiency. But this was a new low.
Credit the Knicks for some of that — they have the personnel to match up with Orlando. They can single cover Howard with Tyson Chandler so guys can stay home on the Magic’s shooter — Mike Woodson changed things up and the Knicks doubled Howard much more in this game and gave up more threes. But it still worked. Orlando was unimpressive.
It’s hard to see how this team rights the ship and gains momentum now — the locker room is divided and there will be a cloud of questions following their every move. A couple months ago they seemed a solid three seed in the East — they were not contenders but they were better than the rest. As their defense has slipped so have they.
Meanwhile, the Knicks just keep racking up wins. New York got 19 points from Carmelo Anthony (but it took 16 shots to do it), plus they got 15 each off the bench from J.R. Smith and Toney Douglas. The Knicks are 1.5 games up on the Bucks who are the nine seed, they also are 1.5 games back of the slumping 7 seed Sixers.
Things are far from perfect in New York, but it had to be nice to go into a game where they had the more stable coaching situation and were less of a soap opera.