Denton's Dish: Magic vs. Knicks (4/5/12)



By John Denton
April 5, 2012


ORLANDO -- Even with all of the drama and distraction engulfing the Orlando Magic these days, head coach Stan Van Gundy said prior to Thursday night’s game that ``it’s not like the wheels are falling off’’ after a difficult stretch of injuries and tough losses.

But even the resolve of Van Gundy and some of the Magic players had to be on shaky ground after a troubling Thursday that will assuredly go down as one of the most forgettable days in franchise history.

The day started with Van Gundy announcing that franchise center Dwight Howard has asked Magic management to fire him and it ended with the New York Knicks whipping Orlando 96-80 before another sellout crowd at the Amway Center.

``We’ve just got to stay together right now because we’re going through our toughest stretch of the season,’’ Howard said. ``We’ve got to stay together and not let anybody tear us apart. We’ve got to keep pushing and find a way to get it corrected before the playoffs come around.’’

Once owners of the NBA’s fifth-best record and the third seed in the East, the Magic (32-23) lost their fifth game in a row to drop to sixth place. It’s the first five-game losing streak for Orlando since 2007 and the first under Van Gundy in his five seasons with the Magic.

``Everybody in (the Magic locker room) has been through these kind of stretches and it seems like they are never going to end but they always do,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Playing better has to be our only focus right now.’’

Howard, back after missing the previous two games with back spasms, didn’t have a field goal in the first half and finished with eight points and eight rebounds. Howard played 40 minutes and was pulled from the game midway through the fourth quarter.

The Magic struggling mightily all night offensively and couldn’t get many stops against New York (28-27), which shot 48.7 percent from the floor and hit 13 3-pointers.

Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson (10 points) struggled through a three of 14 shooting night. Jason Richardson had 16 points, but failed to score in the fourth quarter for the seventh time in past eight games.

Van Gundy’s admission that Howard would like another Magic coach sent shockwaves through the franchise and the sports world on Thursday. It’s just the latest incident in a season full of drama for the weary, undermanned Magic.

Magic President of Basketball Operations/GM Otis Smith, Van Gundy and Howard met before the game on Thursday to talk about the team getting through the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. Smith said earlier in the day on Thursday that he didn’t expect any changes coming with Van Gundy’s job status in the coming days.

``We’ve been handling adversity all year and this is just another chapter,’’ Nelson said. ``My job right now is to lead this team and pull guys together. Despite everything that’s going on in the media, we’re upset the most about the fact that we lost a game.’’

The Magic desperately missed power forward Ryan Anderson, who could have made the Knicks pay for constantly double-teaming Howard on the inside. Anderson, the NBA’s leader in 3-pointers made and attempted, hit seven 3-pointers and scored 30 points against the Knicks in January the first time the two teams played. Anderson missed Thursday’s game because of a sprained right ankle, but hopes to return in time for Saturday’s game in Philadelphia.

Here is a look at some of the key moments from Thursday’s at the Amway Center:


    MAGICAL MOMENTS

  • Magic guards J.J. Redick and Nelson came to the defense of the embattled Van Gundy after the game, saying that they hope he is the coach of the Magic for several years to come.

    In five years with the Magic, Van Gundy has a remarkable .663 winning percentage in the regular season with two 59-win campaigns. He’s also won 30 playoff games, including guiding the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009 and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010.

    ``I want to play for Stan, no question about it,’’ Redick said. ``I’ve said this many times that I’m not a player who wants to make any statements regarding decisions because my job is go out there and play hard and do my job on the court. And I hope that’s with Stan coaching me.’’

    Nelson said he believes that Van Gundy will remain the Magic’s coach the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. ``Right now it’s about Stan, management and the players sticking together,’’ Nelson said. ``We have 11 games left and we have to get better to prepare ourselves for the playoffs. … I love Stan as a coach. Since he’s been here he’s helped my career out tremendously. He’s a great person and he wants to win.’’

    MAGIC MYSTERY

  • Magic small forward Hedo Turkoglu left the game in the second quarter with a cut under his right eye after getting hit by an accidental elbow from Carmelo Anthony.

    Turkoglu had seven points and three rebounds, but went down hard after getting hit under the eye. The cut produced plenty of blood and Turkoglu needed three stitches to close the wound. Swelling in the eye blurred his vision and was the reason why he never returned in the game.

  • Getting defensive stops has been a big problem the past two games. Denver shot 56 percent against the Magic, while Detroit hit 57 percent of its tries – both highs this season against the Magic.

    Things certainly didn’t look good early on defensively. The Knicks got just about any shot they wanted early in the game and made nine of their first 13 tries from 3-point range. J.R. Smith hit his first three 3-point tries, Steve Novak had two threes and Anthony stroked two more in the first half. That shooting allowed the Knicks to storm to a 56-44 lead by halftime.

    ``It broke the game wide open. Two of the threes were off missed layups,’’ Van Gundy said. ``You’ve just got to have some faith that we can get back to the way that we were playing three weeks ago. That’s got to be the only focus right now.’’

    Anthony and Smith gashed the Magic for a combined 30 points in the first half by making 10 of 17 shots and five of six 3-point shots.

  • Howard missed the previous two games because of back spasms and Nelson missed Tuesday’s loss in Detroit because of a strained calf, but both were back on the floor Thursday night. However, the first half was forgettable for the Magic’s two captains.

    Howard, who was grimacing in pain several times during the game because of trouble with his back, got only two shots in the first half because Tyson Chandler (12 points and 12 rebounds) fought him in the post and the Knicks sent double teams at him from all angles. And while Nelson contributed five rebounds and five assists in the first half, he missed seven of his first eight shots.

    For the game, Howard made just four of eight shots and missed all three of his free throws. Nelson hit two 3-pointers in the second half, but the Magic got no closer than 10 points of the lead in the second half.

    ``Offensively, it was tough night for me because I didn’t have a rhythm. But I’ve got to fight through it,’’ Howard said. ``Me and Jameer didn’t have great offensive nights, but we’ll continue to lead this team.’’

    MAGIC MOVES

  • Mired in a slump much of the past two weeks, Jason Richardson got off to a strong start in the first quarter Thursday night. Richardson ran hard on the break, scored nine first-quarter points and had a pass to Davis for a thunderous dunk. Richardson entered Thursday’s game having made just 29 of his last 85 shots, but he hit four of seven shots in the first quarter.

  • Von Wafer reappeared in the Magic rotation Thursday night and not playing in 16 of the last 19 games. Wafer saw time as the second small forward because of a back injury that kept Quentin Richardson out of action.

    Wafer helped the Magic early in the season with his ability to score points in bunches, but he had be deactivated from the game roster in 11 of the past 16 games before Thursday.

    Wafer had a 3-pointer to beat the first half buzzer and another three in the second quarter to give the Magic a lift off the bench. He finished with 13 points, but he was hard on himself after the game for his defensive work against New York’s Landry Fields (10 points).

    ``I gave up a dunk and s 3-pointer in transition and I can’t do that if I want a solid spot in the rotation,’’ Wafer said. ``We’ve just got to take it back to the lab and find out why we’re not stopping people defensively.’’

  • Van Gundy tried to put an optimistic spin on Thursday’s result, saying he still believes that the Magic can get back to playing winning basketball before the playoffs.

    The Magic will practice on Friday before leaving for Philadelphia and the hope is that one win can help the team dig out of its current slump.

    ``We’ve got three weeks (left in the regular season) and we’ve got tough guys in there and I think we’ll be fine,’’ Van Gundy said. I think we’ll get back to playing well. This is very difficult right now, but we can pull out of it. We need a win by even a half-point against anybody and we’ll start feeling better about ourselves again.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com

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