NEW YORK (AP) — While the New York Knicks feel they are moving closer to the level of the elite teams in the NBA, the Orlando Magic appear to be returning to that class after remaking their roster.
These teams will meet for the first time this season as the Magic look to extend their win streak to five games Thursday night.
New York (18-13) began a two-game Florida road trip with a 106-98 loss at Miami on Tuesday. The Knicks got off to a terrible start, trailing by as many as 19 points in the first quarter, before recovering to pull within three points in the final minutes against a Heat team which has won 15 of 16.
“Tonight was a measuring stick game for us and we feel we played well despite the first quarter,” said forward Amare Stoudemire, who had 30 points.
This game should serve as another test to measure New York’s improvement after three double-digit losses to Orlando (20-12) last season.
The Magic shot 53.9 percent in those games to sweep the season series from the Knicks for the first time since 2001-02. Dwight Howard averaged 22.7 points and 13.0 rebounds, and Orlando made 38 3-pointers.
The Knicks, of course, did not have Stoudemire last season while the Magic have a new look after adding Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson in a pair of trades made Dec. 18.
Orlando lost its first two games with those players as part of a 1-8 stretch. The Magic have won four straight since, using a big finish for a 110-95 victory at Cleveland on Tuesday.
Howard was limited to 12 points and six rebounds. The All-Star center did not play in the fourth quarter as a smaller lineup played well and never came off the court, producing 35 points in the final period.
“I told (general manager Otis Smith) on the way in, it took me 32 games, but we finally found our fourth-quarter lineup,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “It was a great fourth quarter.”
Arenas had his best game with Orlando with 22 points and 11 assists while Richardson added 20 points.
“We are veterans and we all mesh well,” Richardson said. “We all have great personalities and nobody has a bad attitude. We all have the same goal, and that is winning games right now.”
The Magic will likely stay away from a smaller lineup and try to make sure Howard is on the floor Thursday. Stoudemire went 11-1 in his career against Orlando with Phoenix and has posted four straight double-doubles versus the Magic, averaging 23.3 points and 12.0 rebounds.
This game matches the teams that have attempted the most 3-pointers – 776 for Orlando and 765 for New York. The Magic are 11-4 when they make at least 10 3s while the Knicks are 13-2 in such games.
New York is 0-2 against Boston and 0-2 against Miami as it looks for a breakthrough victory against an Eastern Conference powerhouse.
“We can learn from this and we can build on this,” coach Mike D’Antoni said after the loss to Miami. “Again, it is December, not April, so we will see what happens.”
© 2010 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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