Although the New York Knicks are coming off a particularly discouraging loss, they've shown they can win despite injuries to two of their best players.
The Orlando Magic have been unable to overcome an injury to their star.
The Magic, who are hoping to have Dwight Howard back, try to avoid losing five straight games for the first time in five years when they host the Knicks on Thursday night.
Howard sat out the last two games with back spasms and not surprisingly, Orlando (32-22) struggled mightily with its interior defense. In Tuesday's 102-95 loss to Detroit, the Magic yielded 56 points in the paint - 19.1 more than their season average - and allowed the Pistons to shoot an opponent season-best 56.6 percent.
That broke Denver's record from just two days earlier, when the Nuggets shot 55.6 percent in handing Orlando a 104-101 defeat.
"We won't contend for nothing if we don't play defense," said Glen Davis, who had a career-high 31 points Tuesday in his second game starting in Howard's place. "You might as well cancel Christmas."
While Howard's injury is certainly the biggest blow to Orlando, the Magic were also without their next two leading scorers Tuesday - Ryan Anderson (sprained right ankle) and Jameer Nelson (sore left calf). Howard and Nelson are both game-time decisions for Thursday, but Anderson has already been ruled out.
Howard's absence obviously makes a big difference, but coach Stan Van Gundy is quick to point out his team was having problems even before the three-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year was sidelined.
The Magic, who are one of the league's top defensive teams at 92.7 points per game, have surrendered at least 100 in losing each of their last four after allowing teams to reach the century mark in four of their previous 25. Orlando, which hasn't lost five straight games since Jan. 12-20, 2007, is 4-9 when giving up 100 points.
"We don't guard when Dwight is on the floor and we don't guard when Dwight is off the floor," Van Gundy said. "If that doesn't change in the next three weeks, we aren't going anywhere.''
Orlando's skid started with a 108-86 loss to New York (27-27) at Madison Square Garden on March 28. That was the Knicks' second game without Amare Stoudemire (back) and Jeremy Lin (left knee), and while Stoudemire could be back in another week, Lin is likely done for the season.
New York is 3-2 since both players were sidelined, but the team certainly believes it should have won four. The Knicks squandered a 17-point, late third-quarter lead Tuesday in a 112-104 loss at Indiana..
"We have to go back, regroup, and I have to help them," interim coach Mike Woodson said. "It was a winnable game."
Carmelo Anthony played power forward for Stoudemire and was too quick for Indiana's front line, finishing with a season-high 39 points and 10 rebounds.
Anthony is carrying New York's offense in the absence of Stoudemire and Lin, averaging 29.4 points on 50.0 percent shooting in the last five games after averaging 14.0 points on 39.4 percent shooting in the previous seven. He had 25 points against the Magic last week, while Iman Shumpert also scored 25 for the Knicks, who shot 50.6 percent.
Orlando's starters were limited to 42 points in that game with Nelson finishing with 17, Howard 12 and Anderson three.
The Magic defeated the Knicks 102-93 at MSG on Jan. 16 behind a career-best 30 points from Anderson, and have won the last four meetings in Orlando.
- Dwight Howard
- Orlando Magic
- Jameer Nelson
- Ryan Anderson