Vucevic leads Magic past shorthanded Knicks
NEW YORK — Subtract Kristaps Porzingis from the New York Knicks’ starting lineup, and there may not be a bigger gap to fill in the NBA.
Add Tim Hardaway Jr., New York’s second-leading scorer, to the sideline and the Knicks are ripe for picking.
The Orlando Magic learned that the easy way on Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden, taking an early 17-point lead en route to a 105-101 victory, just the Magic’s second win in the last 12 games.
Nikola Vucevic had 34 points, Evan Fournier had 20 and Jonathan Simmons added 16 as all five Orlando starters scored in double figures. The Magic starting lineup accounted for 95 of the team’s 105 points.
With their top two scorers out, New York (11-11) turned to Michael Beasley, who had 21 points. Courtney Lee had 19 points and Enes Kanter totaled 18 points and 16 rebounds to lead the Knicks.
“We have to have everyone contribute a little bit more,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We had Beasley step into that scoring in some games, when we are not shooting it well, we have to find ways defensively to get stops. No one is going to feel sorry for you so other guys have to keep playing, scratching and clawing.”
Without Porzingis patrolling the paint, Vucevic thrived in his matchup with Kanter, who recently missed three games with a back injury.
Vucevic had 12 of his points in the fourth quarter, when the Magic (10-14) staved off a late Knicks rally. Orlando led by eight with 1:51 remaining but New York cut it to three on three occasions before the Magic iced the win and snapped a seven-game road losing streak.
“I was just being aggressive whenever I got a good look at the basket,” Vucevic said. “I got it going early. In the fourth quarter, we needed to lose the game, so I just kept up my aggressiveness until the end of the game.”
The more surprising absence may have been Hardaway, who was replaced in the starting lineup by rookie guard Damyean Dotson. Dotson had just two points, in place of Hardaway, who averages 18 points.
Hardaway’s injury was not announced until before the game.
“It was tough (to play without him),” Knicks guard Jarrett Jack said. “We didn’t know anything about it until five minutes before tip-off. It is tough to lose a guy who plays as hard as Tim does. It was tough but we will rally and collectively try to fill that void.”
Orlando claimed a 17-point first-quarter lead as the Knicks appeared unsure of their go-to guy. Beasley stepped up early for New York, scoring seven points in the opening quarter, but the Magic used a 20-4 run to take control.
Orlando led by as much as 10 in the second quarter, but New York cut it to 54-51 heading into halftime after a Doug McDermott four-point play with two seconds left. McDermott shot just 1 for 7 off the bench but Lance Thomas had 11 points to aid the Knicks’ effort.
The Magic led by single digits for much of the third quarter, with New York taking a 74-73 lead with 1:11 left in the third before Orlando took control once more and went into the fourth quarter up two.
“We’ve been moving the basketball well most of the season, especially the last four or five games, really executing on the offensive side well,” Magic coach Frank Vogel said. “That was there again for us tonight.”
NOTES: New York Knicks PF Kristaps Porzingis missed his third game of the season, the 29th absence of his three-year NBA career, as he battled an ankle injury and an illness, reported to be the flu. New York has gone 0-3 in his absence this season. ... Orlando won for just the second time in 12 games. The Magic defeated Oklahoma City, 121-108, on Nov. 29 to snap a nine-game losing streak. ... Knicks SG Tim Hardaway Jr. (leg injury) missed his first game of the season. ... Orlando concludes the second night of a back-to-back on Monday at Charlotte. ... New York heads to Indiana on Monday for the second game of a back-to-back before returning home on Wednesday to face Memphis.