Magic lose another close game, falling 114-106 to the Knicks

TravelNew Year's Day

The Orlando Magic matched the New York Knicks basket-for-basket for the first 42 minutes of their matchup Saturday night.

But Carmelo Anthony controlled the minutes that remained.

Anthony dominated down the stretch and led the Knicks to a 114-106 victory over the Magic at Amway Center. The perennial all-star spotted mismatches and took advantage of them, challenging Josh McRoberts when McRoberts guarded him one-on-one, and attacking Nik Vucevic when the Magic switched Vucevic onto Anthony in pick-and-roll situations.

"We clearly have to learn how to win," Magic swingman Arron Afflalo said. "The coaches are doing a great job in terms of the schemes and the gameplans. We're definitely competing hard as players. But we need to learn how to win."

Anthony scored 40 points, nine of them in the game's final six minutes.

Coach Jacque Vaughn's Magic now have lost eight consecutive games, the team's longest losing streak since it lost eight straight from Feb. 6-22, 2006.

Their frustrations might not have reached this level if LeBron James hadn't scored 36 points against them on New Year's Eve or if Anthony hadn't torched them Saturday.

On both occasions, McRoberts and Vucevic encountered difficulties.

McRoberts is a 6-foot-10 power forward who rarely guarded opposing wings before this season. Vucevic is a 7-footer who is used to guarding other big men, not slashers who can shoot from the perimeter.

"I'm getting a pretty big taste of it," McRoberts said. "It's not a lot of fun. But I'll do what I've got to do to try to help us get wins."

Then, in a bit of sarcastic gallows humor, he added, "I pretty much shut him down tonight, I think."

Sometimes, all you can do is laugh.

Or at least try to.

For the Magic (12-21), that might be the best antidote to this rough injury-fueled stretch.

"Losing games close against good teams is frustrating," J.J. Redick said. "It's all frustrating."

Jameer Nelson scored 29 points and dished out eight assists, leaving him one shy of Scott Skiles' franchise record for career assists.

Afflalo overcame a fall in the second quarter that left his tailbone and one of his hips so sore that he questioned whether he could return. But he did return, and he finished with 29 points on 10-of-14 shooting and four assists.

Orlando's healthy veteran players — Afflalo, Redick and Nelson — appear to be taking the losing streak roughest of all.

They're not used to this.

"There's a few things that a few of us, along with Coach, have noticed come winning time," Afflalo said.

What Afflalo and the others are seeing is teammates such as McRoberts and Vucevic being forced to defend perimeter players they're not accustomed to guarding.

Orlando's offense also faded late. The Magic made just seven of their 21 shot attempts in the fourth quarter.

New York (23-10) has the luxury of having Anthony, a scorer who can create his own shot at will.

As the announced crowd of 19,171 filed out of Amway Center during the final minute, chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!" from Knicks fans filled the arena.

"It feels good to hear it," Anthony said. "I wasn't expecting that on the road here in Orlando, so that was a special moment out there."

For Magic players, the chants only amplified the disappointment of this losing streak.

They'll begin a four-game road trip Monday night in Portland, Ore.

"I don't expect our team to give in to losing and frustration," Redick said. "I expect us to continue to play hard, and we'll win some games. We'll turn it around. Road trips can bring you together a little bit, and our last road trip out West did that."

Maybe a change of scenery will help.

To them, anything must feel better than this.

jbrobbins@tribune.com

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