When New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson and Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard squared off in the slam dunk contest over All-Star weekend, the 5-foot-9 Robinson came out on top after jumping over his 6-foot-11 counterpart.
Less than two weeks later, Howard’s size was way too much for Robinson and the Knicks.
The Magic will likely again rely heavily on Howard against the undersized Knicks as the teams open a home-and-home series Saturday night in Orlando.
Robinson defeated Howard in the dunk contest finals Feb. 14, leaping over Howard for one dunk that earned him a perfect score in the last round and helped him unseat the All-Star post player as the contest champion.
Robinson and the Knicks, though, couldn’t handle Howard’s size Feb. 25. Howard had 24 points and 21 rebounds to lead Orlando (50-18) to a 114-109 road victory. He also had four blocked shots against a small and overmatched New York frontline.
The Knicks (28-40) started an even smaller lineup in their last game Friday night. Robinson and point guard Chris Duhon started in the backcourt, with 6-foot-5 shooting guard Larry Hughes joining 6-foot-8 Wilson Chandler at forward. David Lee, who’s 6-foot-9, remained at center.
New York coach Mike D’Antoni might be compelled to make some adjustments, however, after watching his team struggle through a 121-94 home loss to Sacramento, which had lost all 28 of its games against the Eastern Conference before Friday.
Robinson had 19 points to lead New York, which shot 39.8 percent.
The Knicks, ranking near the top of the league with 105.6 points per game in their first season under D’Antoni, have been held to 92.0 during their three-game losing streak. After Friday’s game, D’Antoni wondered if his players have hit a wall and laughed when asked if he could still envision a playoff push.
New York’s in 12th place in the East, 3 1/2 games behind Chicago, which currently holds the eighth and final playoff spot.
“We can’t make a shot, we don’t have legs to get by people and we don’t have legs to stop anybody,” D’Antoni said. “Just nobody has any physical presence.”
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was far more pleased with his team’s performance in a 106-80 win at Milwaukee on Wednesday night. Howard had 28 points, 12 rebounds and a career high-tying seven assists after being limited offensively in a loss to Cleveland the previous night.
“Coming off of yesterday, no hangover, great energy,” Van Gundy said of Orlando’s overall play. “Went up and down the court, played great defense - and Dwight was tremendous.
“It’s really hard to argue with our competitiveness. I think that there’s a lot of things that we still need to improve on, but our guys come out and play for the most part. I think in terms of that, we’re about as consistent as any team in the league.”
The Magic have won eight of their last 10 to pull within one game of Boston for second place in the East. They’ve also won five of six against the Knicks, with Howard posting three 20-20 games in that stretch.
Robinson had a career scoring average of 6.9 against Orlando before leading New York with 32 points off the bench in the February loss.
The Knicks and Magic square off at Madison Square Garden on Monday night before closing their season series in Orlando on April 10.