The Magic knew what was coming.
Once Carmelo Anthony got the ball at the top of the key he was going to run a pick and roll. Once he had the ball in his hands, that is when it was unclear what he might do. That is when Josh McRoberts or Arron Afflalo or Nikola Vucevic, who all took turns guarding Anthony down the stretch, were stuck on that dreaded island. That is when they were stuck with the mystery of how Anthony was going to attack.
And even when they guessed right, Anthony still could make them look foolish.
This is what having one of THOSE players — one of the best scorers in the world, can do for a team. Particularly a team that plays so well together on the offensive end for most of the game and needs a basket or a quality basket or a "quality" basketbal from a superstar late in games.
The Magic do not have that. They lack a player whom they can be confident will get himself or a teammate a good shot late in games every time he touches the ball.
So when Anthony got things going in the fourth quarter in scoring 16 of his 40 points and 16 of the Knicks' 33 fourth-quarter points on 7-for-11 shooting, the Magic really could do nothing but try something else possibly doomed to fail.
So with the way the Magic were playing defense all night (very lax, that is, yet again), it seemed inevitable once Anthony got going that a loss was on its way. And a 114-106 loss sent the Magic to their eighth straight defeat, their longest losing streak since 2006, and ended a stretch of 10 of 13 games at home with a 4-9 record. They now play 10 of the next 15 on the road in an extremely difficult stretch for this young team.
"He’s an extremely good basketball player," Jacque Vaughn said simply. "At the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to. His ability to create his own shot is really good. He makes shots and that’s why he is an All Star."
Anthony was not the only guy scoring of course for the Knicks. They were scoring at an efficient clip throughout the game.
After Orlando shot out to an impressive start of its own and took an early double-digit lead, New York not-so methodically came back into the game. The Knicks are a team that can score in bursts and usually finish games with their defense. But they shot 47.7 percent from the floor and made 12 3-pointers.
The Magic simply had no answer for Anthony, as many teams do not. And the failure to answer Anthony at the end led to another loss.
"That’s NBA basketball," Josh McRoberts said. "Guys are good in this league. Games are going to be pretty close for the most part. At the end of games, they’re going to go to their best player. You’ve got to be prepared for that. We’ll do a better job defending it in the future. But, a guy like tonight, that’s an exception."
New York got back in the game with a big second quarter, outscoring Orlando 32-19 and forcing seven turnovers for 12 points. Even though the Knicks were not shooting particularly well, they had see-sawed back into the lead. Orlando struggled to rotate on the pick and rolls and perhaps put too much attention on Anthony, who struggled in the first half some.
The MVP got others going at this point and throughout the game when his shot was not falling as Tyson Chandler had almost free run into the paint on picka nd rolls and finished several lobs.
The Magic, as they often do, were not going down without a fight. They were going to make a run and retake the lead. They did that largely on Jameer Nelson's shoulders.
Nelson scored 13 of his 29 points, making 4 of 8 shots and 3 of his 5 3-pointers, in the third quarter and seemed to carry the Magic through and back into the lead. He was great the entire game, scoring 16 points int he first half and masterfully running the pick and roll, picking apart New York's defense.
"[Jameer] was great for the entire tonight," Vaughn said. "He was trying to will us and that is great to see. It shows you his growth – even though he is eight, nine years in – it shows that he cares, he cares for his teammates and he cares for this organization. It is great to see his leadership."
Nelson though seemed to vanish from the offense in the fourth quarter. While the Knicks fed Anthony constantly, the Magic went to their base offense and could not get Nelson the ball in positions to score. Nelson missed his only two shots of the quarter and recorded two assists.
His absence was noticeable as Orlando hit on only 33.3 percent of its shots in the fourth quarter, scored only 17 points — giving up 33 — and missed all five of its 3-point attempts after making 10 through three quarters. In fact, only three players scored int he fourth quarter — Nikola Vucevic had six of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, Arron Afflalo had nine of his 29 and Josh McRoberts added his only two points of the game.
Orlando went stagnant in the fourth quarter when the team could least afford to. Even though sometimes the ball does not go into the basket, the Magic were struggling to get the opportunities it needed to score and pull out the game.
"We clearly have to learn how to win if that makes sense," Afflalo said. "The coaches are doing a great job in terms of the schemes and the gameplans. We’re definitely competing hard as players. But we need to learn how to win. There are certain instances and points in the game that we can fine tune, simplify and be smarter about to put us in better position."
As J.J. Redick said after the game, winning these games comse down to "Get more stops, make more shots."
This is a problem much easier said than done, of course.
Orlando now heads out West looking to catch some of the same lightning in a bottle on the road that helped them break a three-game skid in December and brought them closer together. For many of the players that seemed like a lifetime ago and the Magic seem to be searching much deeper for answers.
There is no simple answer to breaking this losing streak. Not with the Magic continuing to play offense relatively well and not with the team competing with a chance to win in each game in this streak save a few.
"I don’t expect our team to give in to losing and frustration," J.J. Redick said. "I expect us to continue to play hard. We’ll win some games. We’ll turn it around. Road trips can bring you together a little bit. Our last road trip out West did that. And frankly we had a chance to win all five games. I think this could be a good trip for us."
It just might take that one breakthrough or that one right bounce from the other team or that little bit of missing execution.