ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Orlando Magic aren’t accustomed to scoreboard watching at this point of the season. Yet on Wednesday, every time they took a look, they saw good news.
Orlando made a huge move toward ending its seven-year playoff drought, as Nikola Vucevic scored 29 points and Terrence Ross added 23 off the bench in a 114-100 win over the New York Knicks.
The win, combined with losses by Detroit, Brooklyn and Miami, moved the Magic from ninth in the Eastern Conference standings into a tie for seventh, just a half-game behind the Detroit Pistons for the No. 6 seeding.
“Our motto is win our way in,” said Ross, who hit three straight 3-pointers in the final minute of the third period to give Orlando an 11-point cushion going to the fourth period. “We can’t worry too much about what other teams are doing. If we win our next three games, we’re going to put ourselves in good position.”
Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon had 19 points apiece for the Magic, who have three regular-season games left.
“It’s still a tight race and things can change quickly, but obviously we’re in a good spot, right where we want to be,” Vucevic said.
Orlando’s stars came through as expected, but needed a great deal of help from their bench to hold off the Knicks.
Backups Michael Carter-Williams and Khem Birch didn’t have the scoring night Ross did, but were key components in the defense that decided the game. They combined for 11 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and, with Ross, a combined plus-71 rating in their time on the court.
“They changed the game around for us,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said of his reserves. “Their energy and defense led to good offense for us. We made the plays that were there to be made.”
Mario Hezonja scored 22 of his 29 points in the second half for New York. Kevin Knox scored 21 points and Emmanuel Mudiay had 13 points and 10 assists for the Knicks, who have lost seven of eight.
New York cut a 13-point halftime deficit to two points late in the third quarter, but Ross single-handedly stopped the rally with three straight 3-pointers that gave Orlando an 85-74 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Hezonja, who was originally drafted by Orlando with the fifth pick in the 2015 draft, helped New York get as close as 93-86 in the fourth quarter, but the Knicks didn’t have enough firepower to sustain the rally.
“I told Mario, no matter what, I’m going to start you this game and I want you to really go out there and perform for Orlando, show them you’re a player and going to be in this league a long time,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “I really thought he came out and showed what he could do.”
Orlando used a pair of 3-pointers from Gordon to stop two New York runs, and the Magic needed only one field goal in the final four minutes to comfortably close out the game.
“I was really happy with the way we came in here and played,” Fizdale said. “We’re playing these games like they’re playoff games for us. We gave ourselves a chance, we just didn’t finish it off.”
Hezonja replaced Luke Kornet in the starting lineup. Kornet scored 41 points, had 14 rebounds and six blocks as a starter the previous two games. The Knicks were just 1-for-12 on 3-pointers in the first half. Mitchell Robinson didn’t get a block, stopping his run of consecutive games with a block at 34.
Knicks visit Houston on Friday night.
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