NEW YORK -- With one big block, Dwight Howard boosted Orlando's playoff chances and severely damaged New York's.
But was it actually a block?
Howard's questionable rejection kept the game tied in the final minute, and Jameer Nelson followed with a 3-pointer with 38 second remaining that helped the Magic send the Knicks to their season-high fourth straight loss, 94-89 Monday night.
"That was clear as day it was goaltending," Knicks guard Stephon Marbury said.
Nelson also made the tying 3-pointer with 1:06 left and finished with 18 points for Orlando, which got its second consecutive key victory in the race for a playoff berth and moved into sole possession of seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Marbury drove into the lane on the next trip and seemed to have a layup before Howard leaped high to swat it away. Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said the official "missed it," but Magic coach Brian Hill said he didn't think it was "anywhere near close to being goaltending."
As for Howard's take?
"The ref said it was clean, so I guess it's clean," he said.
Either way, it helped Orlando snap a tie with New Jersey in the standings. The Magic were coming off a victory over the Nets, who are two games ahead of 10th-place New York for the last spot.
"It's a big win, not just because we're just a game apart in the loss column, (but) getting another road win," Hill said. "They're all going to be big down the stretch here. Certainly though, with a team that we're battling in the standings, there is added significance."
Stephon Marbury scored 32 points for the fading Knicks, who have lost six of seven. Eddy Curry scored 17 points for injury-depleted New York, which was a dismal 23-of-37 (62 percent) from the foul line and fell to a season-high 10 games under .500.
"It's definitely tough," forward Jared Jeffries said. "We need to get some wins."
David Lee has missed the last two games after making a somewhat surprising return from an 11-game absence with an injured right leg. With Jamal Crawford and Quentin Richardson also out, the Knicks were forced to give more minutes than usual to rookies Renaldo Balkman and Mardy Collins.
Though Thomas tried to somewhat downplay the importance of this game, time appears to be running out for the Knicks, who face tough games against Cleveland and Dallas this week.
The Knicks finally hit their free throws when it mattered. With New York trailing by five, Marbury made a layup, then Nate Robinson and Marbury each made a pair of free throws to give the Knicks an 83-82 lead with 2:25 remaining.
Curry then converted a three-point play, pushing the lead to 86-82 with 1:51 left. But Orlando tied it at 87 on Nelson's 3-pointer with 1:06 to go, and after Howard's block, Nelson knocked down another 3 to make it 90-87 with 38 seconds remaining.
"Every shot we take right now during this little stretch is a big shot," Nelson said. "My teammates know that I like to take the big shot in the games, so they found me."
Marbury made another pair of free throws to cut it to one, but Turkoglu answered with a pair before Howard added another block on a drive by Robinson.
"Dwight's blocks were huge, but that's what All-Stars do," Hill said. "He came from the weak side and made two huge blocks down the stretch. He stepped up when the game was on the line."
Orlando shot 61 percent in the first quarter to open a 23-21 lead. The game was still tied before Balkman had a pair of fast-break dunks in the final minute, giving New York a 49-45 lead at halftime.
Marbury had 19 points at halftime. But he didn't have a field goal in the third quarter, when the Knicks were just 5-of-15 from the field and committed eight turnovers while being outscored 25-15, giving the Magic a 70-64 lead heading to the fourth.
Randolph Morris, who signed with the Knicks on Friday less than a week after playing in the NCAA tournament for Kentucky, did not play. ... The Knicks had won both previous meetings this season ... Trevor Ariza, sent to Orlando last year in the trade that brought Steve Francis to New York, scored six points. A frustrated Francis, who didn't practice Sunday because of the flu, had only one point in 12 minutes. "It's hard man, it's definitely hard being a veteran," Francis said. "Last week playing 44 minutes to this week playing 2 minutes. It's tough."
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