Knicks beat Magic 96-80 on day filled with tension

The Orlando Magic’s freefall continued Thursday.

On the day Stan Van Gundy claimed Dwight Howard wants him fired -- a charge Howard has denied -- the Magic lost their fifth consecutive game for the first time in Van Gundy’s five-year tenure.

Howard struggled on the offensive end, and New York hit a barrage of 3-pointers as the Knicks beat the Magic 96-80 at Amway Center. Just how bad was it? Knicks fans inside the arena cheered “Let’s go Knicks” as the final minute wound down.

“I think that we’ll be fine,” Van Gundy said. “I think we’ll get back to playing well. I think that things tend to snowball like this, and other teams have had these stretches early in the year. Other than the top four teams in the league, everybody’s had these stretches. You get discouraged and nothing’s going right and then people start pressing, and it’s sort of a snowball effect.

“But you’ll break out of it. Somewhere along the way, playing well once will spur us back to playing well.”

The Magic (32-23) sure hope so.

With the loss, the Magic dropped to sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings.

Howard finished with eight points on 4-of-8 shooting. He grabbed eight rebounds.

He didn’t score his first points until he recorded an easy dunk with 3.5 seconds remaining in the third period off a pick-and-roll with J.J. Redick to cut the New York lead to 76-61.

“We know we’re having a tough stretch,” said Howard, who would not answer questions about his relationship with Van Gundy.

“Shots are not falling. Our defense has not been great. But we’ve just got to stick together. We’re going through one of the toughest times in the season right now. There’s a lot going on as a team.”

The Knicks (28-27) took control of the game in the second quarter -- just as they did during their convincing victory over the Magic on March 28 at Madison Square Garden.

And it seemed that New York could not miss from 3-point range. The Knicks made eight of their first 11 tries from beyond the arc and went 13 for 25 there overall.

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony finished with 19 points, and he accidentally inflicted some collateral damage on the Magic in the process. Anthony drove to the hoop with 2:14 remaining in the second quarter, and as he completed his jump and returned to the parquet court, one of his elbows caught Hedo Turkoglu beneath the right eye.

The collision left Turkoglu bleeding and dazed. Turkoglu did not return to the game, and a Magic spokesman said Turkoglu received three stitches.

Orlando had not lost five consecutive games since Jan. 12-20, 2007, the season before Van Gundy became the team’s head coach.

“I’ve never been on a team that hasn’t gone through some tough times,” Redick said. “I think our tough times are a little more magnified this season because of everything that’s gone on off the court.”

Howard was cheered during pregame introductions, but he was not cheered as raucously as he normally is. That may have been a byproduct of a late-arriving crowd and by the fact that plenty of Knicks fans were sprinkled in the announced crowd of 19,098.

The tough loss that followed just made it all seem worse.

“It’s five games in a row, but you can overstate it, too,” Van Gundy said. “It’s not like we’ve played five awful games in a row.” Read his blog at Subscribe to our Orlando Magic newsletter at