ORLANDO, Fla. - Magic coach Stan Van Gundy on Thursday morning said he had heard from top team management officials that Dwight Howard has previously requested that he be fired. Affected or not by the comments, Howard and his teammates trudged their way to a season-high fifth straight defeat.
The New York Knicks seemed to be the NBA's resident team-in-turmoil last month, stumbling through coaching issues and their second prolonged losing streak of the season.
In their second matchup with Orlando in just over a week, it was the Knicks that took advantage of a team caught up in off-court drama for a 96-80 win over the Magic on Thursday night.
Carmelo Anthony scored 19 points, and Tyson Chandler had 12 points and 12 rebounds to lead New York past a Magic team that appears to be sliding headfirst back into the soap opera that has trailed center Dwight Howard all season.
Earlier in the day, Howard denied that he's made such demands of the Magic brass, echoing previous comments throughout the season. After the game he brushed aside any mention of a rift between him and his coach.
"I'm not gonna talk about that," Howard said of the incident.
Howard's game was off throughout the night and he finished with only eight points and eight rebounds. Jason Richardson scored 16 points and Glen Davis 15 to lead Orlando.
Lost in all the Magic malaise, though, might have been one of the Knicks' better recent efforts, and definitely one of the best since they lost both center Amare Stoudemire and point guard Jeremy Lin to injury six games ago.
Lin is out for the season and Stoudemire remained sidelined Thursday, but Chandler and the New York reserves filled in the gaps in picking apart the Magic for the second straight meeting. J.R. Smith and Toney Douglas each added 15 points for the Knicks, who won for just the third time in their last 13 visits to Orlando. New York also hit 13 3-pointers.
"It was a total team effort," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "We didn't collapse like we did in the fourth quarter (in a loss Tuesday to Indiana), going in up (17). I've got to say that they learned something from the film session. They rebounded well. To come back in here and beat this team ... I think Stan has done an excellent job over the years that he's been here.
"And this year he's had a good season with this ball club. It's a big win for our team."
The Knicks improved to 28-27 and more importantly continue to hold onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Douglas, who has spent a great deal of time on the Knicks' bench this season, said it felt good to have the kind of game he knows he is capable of. He had his highest scoring output since December.
"We're not a real big team in the second unit, so we gotta get up and push the ball, create and kick," Douglas said. "...It means a lot. Every game is important, especially in our conference. We blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter against Indiana. So we played all four quarters tonight. That was the key."
With the Magic's morning drama casting a definite pall over the game, the Knicks controlled the action throughout. After handing the Magic a 22-point loss seven days ago, New York again was the aggressor and took a 17-point lead into the fourth quarter.
The Knicks built their lead with shot after shot from beyond the arc and with easy buckets underneath.
Chandler also rendered Howard ineffective on the defensive end, holding the Magic's star center scoreless until a dunk with 3 seconds left in the third quarter.
Orlando never really threatened in the fourth.
The Knicks shot 48 percent (38 for 78), marking the fifth straight game the Magic have allowed an opponent to shoot at least 47 percent from the floor.
"I think we're able to take (Howard) out of his comfort zone and make things difficult for him by not giving him easy shots," Chandler said. "The loss in Indiana was a disappointing loss. We feel like we should have won. I am proud of my teammates about how we responded."
The Magic, who fell to 32-23, also dropped to sixth place in the East.
Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said the focus going forward will be to ignore all issues that don't pertain to what's happening on the court. For what it was worth, Nelson also took a moment to offer a vote of confidence for Van Gundy.
"We've been handling adversity all season," he said. "This is just another chapter of it. This is about us players and management sticking together. I love Stan as a coach. Since he's been here he's helped my career. Helped tremendously. He's a great person."
NOTES: Magic F Hedo Turkoglu left the game with 2:14 left in the second quarter after getting inadvertently hit across the right eye while trying to contest a shot by Anthony. He got three stitches and did not return. .. Orlando F Ryan Anderson missed his second straight game with a sprained right ankle. ...Stoudemire was out for his sixth consecutive game with a bulging disc in his back. ...The Knicks improved to 4-3 since Stoudemire and Lin (knee) were sidelined with injuries.