ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—Stan Van Gundy covered his face with his hands, shook his head and generally looked like a coach in pain with the way his Orlando Magic were playing.
They were up by 24.
The never-satisfied Van Gundy, who’s refusing to rest his players for the playoffs, was still at times upset with his team’s defensive effort against the lowly Knicks.
“When it’s that easy to score, it’s just very difficult to get guys to really get down and really defend hard,” he said. “They just figure, ‘Look, we’ll score, they’ll score, and we’ll outscore them at the end.’
“It’s really just so easy, and you get drawn into that game. I don’t like it. It’s just always been a hard thing, and I understand it from a players standpoint. But I don’t like it.”
Already secured their third straight Southeast Division title and the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 playoff seed, about the only thing Orlando has left to play for is home-court advantage in a possible NBA finals rematch against the Lakers.
The Magic remain tied with the Lakers, who won at Minnesota on Friday, and will have to finish ahead in the standings because Los Angeles owns the tiebreaker with a better record against the opposing conference.
That alone is enough to keep Van Gundy pushing his players.
“I’d hate to be sitting there in the finals going, ‘You know what? We would have had a shot at this if I didn’t rest so-and-so for no damn reason on April the 9th,”’ he said.
The Magic still bullied the Knicks from the start. They had fun doing it, too.
Ryan Anderson(notes) added 19 points to help Orlando win its 17th win in the last 20 games. The Magic swept the season series 3-0 against the Knicks and geared up for a matchup with top-seeded Cleveland on Sunday.
Danilo Gallinari(notes) had 28 points, and Chris Duhon(notes) had 13 for the Knicks, who have lost six of their last eight. They trimmed the deficit to eight points early in the fourth quarter before Orlando again pulled away.
“We played hard. We played pretty well. They just outmanned us. They’re just better,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said.
The Magic showed no mercy.
J.J. Redick(notes) slashed down the baseline in the second quarter and finished with a two-handed layup on a dunk attempt that came up short, bringing the Magic bench players rising in laughter. Marcin Gortat(notes) nearly threw down a one-handed dunk a few plays later on Gallinari, whose foul caused a miss, highlighting a 14-5 run in the second quarter that gave Orlando a 19-point lead.
Howard and starters Matt Barnes(notes) and Rashard Lewis(notes) were waving their towels smiling at Gortat’s aggressiveness, even refusing to sit back on the bench until he came over to give high-fives. Gortat did, then sank the free throws.
Even with the game pretty much a laugher, Magic players understand Van Gundy’s concerns on defense. They also know their coach, too.
“Stan’s pretty much never happy,” Carter said. “We really accept the challenge.”
“We really don’t have a choice,” he added.
The Magic can now look ahead to Sunday’s game at Cleveland in what could be a preview of an Eastern Conference finals rematch. The top two seeds aren’t likely to show much with the playoffs looming next weekend.
Cleveland coach Mike Brown, with his team already clinching the NBA’s best record, has called the remaining regular-season games “high-level practice.” But Van Gundy has made it clear he’s not resting his starters.
“I don’t know what it gains you, quite honestly,” Van Gundy said. “My question would be why? For what reason? These guys have been playing all year. They get days off.”
The Knicks rolled along passively toward the end of another disappointing season. They had careless passes, poor defense and—like many teams—no answer inside for Howard.
They weren’t a welcome guest, either.
“They’re a good team,” McGrady said. “They dominated.”
Even if it wasn’t enough for the Magic.
NOTES: McGrady reiterated before the game that Orlando would be an “attractive” place to return when he becomes a free agent this summer. … D’Antoni had a comical analogy to describe how the franchise has been clearing salary cap space to prepare for this summer “We know there’s a fastball coming, and we want to take a swing at it,” D’Antoni said. But, he added, “It might be a changeup. Then we’re screwed.”