Postgame Report: Magic 97, Knicks 73

by John Denton

NEW YORK – Realizing that his team’s attack was badly out of whack with the NBA’s sweeping trend of 3-point-heavy offenses, Orlando Magic head coach Frank Vogel went to work months ago in changing the way the team approaches shooting from afar.

While the win/loss results haven’t always been what they wanted, but the Magic now feature the kind of 3-point shooting that has made them both dangerous and historic this season.

On a night when the Magic set a new franchise record for 3-point attempts in a season, they drilled 11 threes and rode big shooting nights from forwards Mario Hezonja and Jamel Artis in a 97-73 rout of the New York Knicks.

Orlando (23-53) snapped a three-game losing streak with its huge point differential from the 3-point line. Whereas the Magic made 11 of 36 3-pointers, New York (27-51) connected on just four of 27 shots from beyond the arc. On Tuesday, Hezonja made five of eight threes for a game-high 19 points, while Artis hit three of six threes for 16 points as the Magic picked apart New York’s badly slumping defense.

``I mean, it’s helped us a lot, especially early in the season,’’ Hezonja said of Orlando’s added emphasis on 3-point shooting. ``But we can’t rely only on our 3-point shot. We’ve seen a lot of times when we weren’t making 3-point shots, we’ve been bad defensively. We lost a lot of games like that. But it’s definitely good to have that ability and that firepower, but you can’t really rely everything on that.’’

Orlando set a new franchise record on Tuesday for 3-pointers attempted in a season, topping the previous mark from the 2009-10 season – one where the franchise reached the Eastern Conference Finals. By averaging 29.4 3-point attempts per game, the Magic should also set a new mark for made threes in a season and blow both previous records for makes and takes out of the water over the final five games.

Despite their success from the 3-point line this season, Vogel still thinks Orlando can be a significantly better outside shooting team in the future.

``I think we’re getting there (as far as improvement) because we always want to be more precise with our shot selection because sometimes we settle too much,’’ Vogel said. ``The league has definitely adopted that style of play and we’ve shifted dramatically from where we were last year. We’ve got to improve our percentages both with the guys who are in uniform and in terms of acquiring more shooters next year.

``You watch the NCAA game (on Monday night) and with what’s happened in (the NBA) league-wide, it’s an effective style of play,’’ Vogel added.

Magic center Nikola Vucevic bounced back from a poor game on Sunday in Atlanta, scoring 11 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for his 28thdouble-double of the season. Shelvin Mack had 12 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, while Khem Birch scored 11 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked three shots.

Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Knicks with 16 points, while former Magic center Kyle O’Quinn chipped in 13 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots for New York.

Orlando led by seven points at the end of three quarters and it broke the game open early in the fourth period behind the shooting of Hezonja and Artis. The Magic outscored the Knicks 29-12 in the fourth period – a 12-minute stretch where Hezonja had 11 points and three 3-pointers.

``It gets you going and you get in more of a rhythm,’’ Hezonja said of making his 3-point shots early in the game. ``I actually started get my teammates open and getting them more involved. But once I hit that first (3-pointer) I was in rhythm and I tried to bring others up and make plays for them.’’

The Magic will be back in action again on Wednesday night when they host the similarly rebuilding Dallas Mavericks. Orlando will be on the second night of a back-to-back and likely sleep-deprived from an expected arrival back in Central Florida after 2 a.m.

Artis, who averaged 19.5 points in 46 games with the Lakeland Magic of the G League, made six of 10 shots and chipped in six rebounds, two assists and a steal. His previous high in the NBA was eight, and he was delighted to set a new NBA high against the Knicks – a team that surprisingly waived him early in training camp back in September.

``A little bit, that definitely played into it a little bit,’’ he said of getting revenge against the Knicks. ``Yeah, I was a little caught off guard (by New York releasing him), I’d say because I think I belong here (at the NBA level). So, it’s nothing personal. It’s sports and you have to be great and continue to work hard like I did. I’m here (with Orlando) now and I love it.’’

Artis scored the final five points of the third period – on a nifty finger-roll and a confidently shot 3-pointer – to give the Magic a 68-61 lead at the end of three periods.

Orlando played inspired basketball in the first half and led 46-45 at intermission behind some unlikely sources. Artis, who spent most of this season in the G League, had his NBA career high of nine points by halftime by hitting three of his first five shots with two 3-pointers.

``I told him to be in your spots and I’ll find you for sure,’’ Hezonja said of Artis. ``At the end of the day, we were really selfless, and we were attacking and finding the open guy. (Artis) got it going, he was really looking good and I was happy about it. He can really go.’’

Speaking of 3-pointers, the Magic wasted no time in setting their franchise record for 3-pointers attempted in a season. Orlando’s fourth heave of the night from beyond the arc – a make by Hezonja – gave the Magic 2,242 attempts for the season, breaking the previous mark of 2,241 set in the 2009-10 season.

The Magic’s first-half lead came largely because of their 3-point shooting. They connected on just 38.6 percent of their shots but drilling six threes helped make up for the low success rate. By contrast, the Knicks missed 12 of their first 13 3-point shots and made only two of 17 in the first half.

``Definitely the three-ball is a powerful weapon and we’re just working on refining our shot selection to take the right ones,’’ Vogel said. ``I thought we had a dramatic difference in our patience and shot selection from the last game, which was a big point of emphasis. Those shots were a big part of the win.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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