Dwight Howard had not scored in the game when he stepped to the free throw line early in the third quarter. It was a strange day at the Amway Center and the mood was a bit odd.
Stan Van Gundy stole some headlines when reporters asked him about rumors that Howard had requested the Magic fire the team’s head coach. Van Gundy confirmed those rumors and the media firestorm was set. It was on everyone’s mind.
Certainly the fans could have been said to vent some frustration over how the last two weeks and how the season has gone so far. If it was not one thing, it had to be another for the now flailing Magic.
Howard went to the line and missed both free throws, that was not the notable part. Howard has missed plenty of free throws this year. What was noticeable was the chorus of boos that Howard had to face coming from the large contingent of Knicks fans in attendance at Amway Center and, quite possibly, a healthy number of Magic fans that are certainly frustrated by continued rumors, griping and complaining coming from the superstar.
Van Gundy, Howard and a number of players said it did not affect them in their 96-80 loss to the Knicks on Thursday. But it was hard not to feel the tension and feeling in the air. Anyone would find it hard to focus on the task at hand.
Howard, playing his first game since last Friday after sitting out with back spasms, had only eight points and eight rebounds in 39 minutes. He turned the ball over five times. Jameer Nelson, also making his return, scored 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting, adding five assissts and six rebounds for good measure.
Orlando was still a bit off-kilter though. It showed in long enough stretches as the Knicks hit 13 of their 25 3-point attempts, including six of nine in the second quarter to take a 12-point lead they would never squander. The Magic have a five-game losing streak, and it seems like it will only get worse from here. That is probably not true, but that feeling is inescapable.
“I think we have to scrap out a win,” J.J. Redick said. “I’ve never been on a team that has gone through some tough times. Every team is going to go through some tough times. I think our tough times are a little more magnified this season because of what is going on off the court.”
The Magic struggled again offensively. But the problems seemed to be compounded on the defensive end. New York took complete control of the game with a 33-point second quarter and a 14-3 run that pushed the lead out to 11 points. Zack Novak and J.R. Smith each had two 3-pointers in that stretch making those three minutes early in the second quarter seem long.
That second quarter was especially killer. the Knicks, in addition to the 3-pointers, shot 75 percent from the floor and posted a 93.8 percent effective field goal percentage and an 86.5 percent true shooting percentage. It was devastating efficiency. Scoring 23 points and hitting 4 for 7 3-pointers in the second quarter was not going to be enough.
Not nearly enough.
Orlando never recovered from that part of the onslaught especially with the offense finding such poor footing. The Magic struggled to get good shots once again against the Knicks with the team’s strategy of switching perimeter screens and single covering Dwight Howard. Howard said after the game that he did not expect to make a huge impact offensively in his first game back. The team probably suffered some for it.
New York held Orlando to 41.7 percent shooting and 9-for-24 shooting from beyond the arc. The Magic had just 36 points in the second half and never got the Knicks’ lead to single digits in the second half.
Carmelo Anthony did a lot of the work to make sure Orlando never found its footing. He had 19 points and eight rebounds, doing a good chunk of his damage in the first half — he shot only one for seven in the second half. New York was attacking on all fronts and getting shots to fall with a complete team effort.
New York has proven to be a tough matchup for Orlando. So even when the team played relatively well and with a lot of energy in the second half, it was not enough even to make a run and give the team a chance.
“They have a lot of shooters on the floor and guys who can break the defenders down,” Earl Clark said. “You’ve got to help your teammates on D. It seems like against us, they’ve been hitting all these shots. It has been a tough couple games.”
The tough road seems to continue to move forward for the Magic as they continue falling down the standings.
Stan Van Gundy made it a point to say that the losing streak is not as bad as it appears. Orlando lost close games against Dallas and Denver and then played against Denver and Detroit without their best players. Van Gundy said he was unhappy with the results but happy with his team’s effort.
With 11 games left, the Magic still have to find themselves.