The New York Knicks have started this season in disastrous fashion.
But they still confound the Orlando Magic.
Not even Carmelo Anthony's momentum-turning left-ankle sprain and a frantic Magic rally could change that Monday night. Trailing by as many as 25 points and then by 20 points when Anthony left the game midway through the third quarter, the Magic nearly pulled off a massive comeback but lost 103-98.
"Moral victories?" power forward Glen Davis said afterward. "It's time to win. We dug ourself in a hole, and I don't know what it was. We have to play with a chip on our shoulder. New York let up a little bit, and we kept fighting."
The Magic gave themselves a chance to win the game, but a few botched plays down the stretch cost them.
Down 97-93 with just a little more than one minute remaining, Davis stole the ball and led a fastbreak. But Knicks guard Iman Shumpert hustled down the court, knocked the ball out of Davis' hands and over the baseline. After the Magic inbounded the ball, Davis missed a jumper.
On its ensuing possession, New York's Andrea Bargnani missed a jumper, but Tyson Chandler tapped the ball out to the perimeter, where a teammate collected it.
Former Magic point guard Beno Udrih hit all six of his free-throw attempts in the game's final 21.3 seconds to preserve the Knicks' lead.
"As a player, you can't like losing," Magic forward Tobias Harris said. "I hate losing, and I want us to get better. If we weren't down 20-something points in the second half, that could've been a different game."
But it wasn't.
The Magic now have lost 11 of their last 13 games.
And Monday's defeat occurred primarily because the Knicks dominated in the second quarter, outscoring them 36-14.
In the first half, the Knicks sank 57 percent of their 3-point shots and 52 percent of their shots overall.
There were no rah-rah speeches inside Orlando's locker room at halftime, players said.
Just cold reality.
"I think any fan could've gave us a speech at halftime," shooting guard Arron Afflalo said. "Are you going to show up and play or not? There's not too much rah-rahing you can do when you're down 24. You know what needs to be done."
The Magic had to improve on defense. Simple as that.
In the opening minutes of the third quarter, they trimmed four points off the Knicks' lead.
Then Anthony, who had scored 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting, suffered his ankle sprain.
"We kind of ... hung our heads, but they made a hell of a run," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "We just kept fighting and grinding, and we were able to make some defensive stops coming down the stretch that really helped us secure the game."
Afflalo scored a game-high 26 points.
Point guard Jameer Nelson nearly recorded a triple-double. He compiled 17 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists.
Orlando now has lost eight consecutive games to New York, a streak that started March 28, 2012.
Almost two and a half weeks after a blowout defeat at Madison Square Garden, the Magic (8-20) seemed on the verge of another lopsided loss to the Knicks (9-18).
Monday's game followed a script similar to the Magic's 121-83 loss to the Knicks on Dec. 6 in Manhattan.
In both games, New York made a run early in the second quarter and pulled away.
"I told the guys after the game I'm not that good of a coach for us to dig a hole like that and try to fight our way back into games continuously," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "What I do like is the kind of frenetic, maniacal approach that we had in the second half, which got us back into the game."
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