The Knicks, though, have reason for optimism heading to Orlando.
New York comes into Wednesday’s rematch fresh off a surprising blowout victory over the team with the NBA’s best record, and now will try to beat the defending Eastern Conference champion Magic for just the third time in 11 meetings.
Orlando (14-4) didn’t have too much trouble topping the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, using a balanced effort from its three leading scorers. Dwight Howard(notes) scored 24 points, Vince Carter(notes) had 23 and Rashard Lewis(notes) - in his eighth game back following a 10-game suspension - led the way with a season-high 26 in the Magic’s 114-102 victory.
“I think Rashard, the way he plays, it just helps all of us out,” Howard said. “The way he shoots the ball, when he drives, his defense, all that stuff. It helps us out and we missed that for the first 10 games.”
It was the fifth straight loss for the Knicks (4-14), but they bounced back Tuesday with easily their most impressive win of the season. New York tied a season high with 14 3-pointers - six from Danilo Gallinari(notes) - and routed Phoenix 126-99, outscoring the Suns in every quarter and becoming the first team to hold coach Mike D’Antoni’s former team under 100.
“If we can bottle this up,” D’Antoni said. “As a matter of fact, I didn’t know how to conduct myself the last five minutes. I didn’t know who to put in, when to put them in. It’s been a while.”
Gallinari finished with a game-high 27 points Tuesday after making 4 of 5 3-pointers and scoring 15 against Orlando. The Knicks desperately need the second-year forward - who has taken 65 percent of his overall attempts from beyond the arc - to keep hitting from the outside. New York is shooting just 32.6 percent from 3-point range despite leading the league in attempts (518).
Orlando is right behind the Knicks with 493 attempts, though it isn’t connecting at as high of a rate (36.7) as it did last season (38.1) on its way to the NBA finals.
That percentage figures to rise as soon as Lewis (30.4 percent) starts knocking down 3s more regularly, and he may have gotten started by making 5 of 9 on Sunday. No player made more 3-pointers than Lewis over the past two seasons, when he shot 40.3 percent from long range.
New York’s bigger concern may be finding a way to contain Howard, who’s averaged 20.6 points, 15.6 rebounds and 2.9 blocks in leading the Magic to seven wins in nine games against the Knicks since the start of 2007-08.
While Orlando can count on an edge in the paint, they’d like to be able to slow 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson(notes), who seems to be at his best against the Magic. Robinson has averaged 22.4 points in his last five games versus Orlando, and scored 22 of his 24 Sunday in the fourth quarter.
Robinson didn’t score in the win over Phoenix.
“If they had five more minutes, he would have had 50 points and they would have probably won the game,” Howard said of the Knicks in Sunday’s matchup. “Their pick and roll is one of the toughest we played against all year. That is one thing we have to work on when we play them again.”