The Orlando Magic likely came into Thursday's game against the New York Knicks feeling a little uneasy. They'd spent the afternoon absorbing the attention of the entire basketball community after Stan Van Gundy echoed rumors that Dwight Howard had asked that he be fired. By the time the game rolled around, the Magic were perhaps a bit weary from the turmoil. They gave way to an injury-depleted but plucky group of Knicks, falling 96-80 in Orlando.
The Magic, without Ryan Anderson in the lineup, more than kept pace with New York early, pulling ahead by eight behind the scoring of Jason Richardson and friends. Carmelo Anthony got rolling for the Knicks, though, and so did New York's bench. Toney Douglas, reinserted into the rotation not long ago, checked in late in the first and offered aggressive defense to help New York turn the tide. By the second quarter, Anthony was well into his rhythm and J.R. Smith, also off the bench, exploded from the perimeter. He had 13 of his 15 points in an unconscious and conscienceless six-minute stretch of the second. The Knicks took their lead and pushed it to 12 points at the break, having allowed nothing from Howard.
New York's dominance continued through the second half. A visibly uncomfortable Howard struggled to find himself good looks against Tyson Chandler's imposing defense, and sputtered for pretty much the rest of the evening. (He would finish with just eight points and eight rebounds.) Anthony and Smith cooled off, but Baron Davis got to distributing and Landry Fields found some touch from the perimeter and off the dribble (though not from the free-throw line, where he was 0-6). New York pushed its lead to 15 points after three quarters -- an eerily similar scenario to the one that preceded their fourth-quarter collapse on Tuesday in Indiana -- but this time held on the fourth. Some full-court defense, some scoring from Douglas, and just some sloppy, imprecise play by the Magic assured that there would be no battle down the stretch.
New York's win helped solidify its eighth seeding in the Eastern Conference and pulled the Knicks within a game of seventh-seeded Philadelphia. Orlando, meanwhile, hit a losing streak of five games for the first time in five years and fell to an even record with Atlanta for the sixth seed. It was a fitting conclusion to a tense, unpleasant day that left a lot of folks in the Orlando organization and fanbase feeling pretty sour.
For all of Thursday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.