<
>

Rapid Reaction: Magic 116, Knicks 110

Recap | Box score | Photos

WHAT IT MEANS: In a battle of limping starting point guards, Jameer Nelson won out against Chauncey Billups. Billups suffered a left quad bruise late in the fourth quarter, and sat out for the remainder of the game. But after Nelson twisted his left ankle in the same period after coming down on his jump shot, he remained in the game to finish the second half, scoring 22 points. And with Nelson's help, Superman, aka Dwight Howard, was able to save Metropolis from the attack of the blue and orange men, which featured more than Carmelo Anthony's heroics. The Magic (39-22) survived Anthony's 25 points and 30 apiece from Billups and Amare Stoudemire to get the victory, 116-110. Howard finished with his 49th double-double of the season (30 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocks) to improve the Magic's record to 2-0 against the Knicks (30-28). "We played better defense," Howard said, "and on the offensive end, we executed. We made the defense help on me and it worked." On Billups' injury, Mike D'Antoni said, "We'll find out how bad it is."

TURNING POINTS: After the Knicks outscored the Magic 37-15 in the second quarter, both teams were neck-and-neck in the third. Whereas Howard was the only Magic player heating up in the first half, after halftime he was assisted by seven of his teammates who put points on the scoreboard. That gave the Magic the momentum heading into the fourth, even though they were without small forward Hedo Turkoglu (ejected) and combo guard Gilbert Arenas (sore knee). It didn't help that several of the Knicks, especially Stoudemire and Shawne Williams, who are key for basket protection, were in foul trouble. Then, with 8:56 to go in the fourth quarter, Magic power forward Ryan Anderson made a 3-pointer to give the Magic their first lead of the second half. From that point on, they never wavered.

DIFFERENCE-MAKER: The Magic's second-half 3-point shooting. Entering the game, the Magic were the league's best 3-point shooting team, making 9.3 per game (the Knicks were second at 9.0). But heading into the final period, they had connected on just three of them. Then, within not even a 30-second spurt (from 10:36 to 10:11 to go in the game), the Magic made two from distance, and then went on to make three more. While they finished one 3-point shot below their season average, it was their downtown daggers that made the difference in the game. On the plus side, you've got to tip your hat off to Mr. Big Shot, who again showed why he was the most underrated acquisition in the league before the trade deadline. Billups finished with a career-high 20 free throw attempts, making 18 of them.

ROSTER REVAMP: Within just a week and a day, the Knicks have six new players, four we already know about: Anthony, Billups, Shelden Williams (who made his debut tonight) and Renaldo Balkman. Today, the team waived Kelenna Azubuike and Corey Brewer, and signed forwards Jared Jeffries (as a free agent) and Derrick Brown (off waivers). Jeffries originally signed with the Knicks as a free agent in 2006, appearing in 236 games (135 starts) and averaging 4.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists. "I'm excited," Jeffries told MSG Network. "I love it in New York. I love the energy and the atmosphere. It's an awesome environment there, and I want to be a part of it. I just try to be a high-energy player and I bring an added dimension because I can guard inside and out." On the jersey number he's going to wear: "No. 9. I spoke to MJ [former Wizards teammate Michael Jordan] and he wore No. 9 during the [1984 and '92] Olympics."

WHAT'S NEXT: "The Toast" Part II? Last July at Anthony and LaLa Vasquez's wedding at the Cipriani 42nd Street restaurant in New York City, Chris Paul is said to have made a toast saying, "We’ll form our own big three." It was in reference to himself and Anthony joining Stoudemire in New York, on the heels of LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining Dwyane Wade in Miami. Well, now that Anthony is in New York, you can bet most of the pre- and postgame media questions for Paul tomorrow night, when his Hornets visit MSG, will have some connection to his 2012 free-agent tag.

How will Paul respond to possibly being the final piece to the Big Apple big three? We'll all be listening closely to see if he drops any hints. With the Hornets playing poorly this month, going 4-8 with their only big win coming against Orlando, perhaps he'll warm up a bit to the STAT and Melo excitement. But hopefully that happens more in conversation and not on the court, because the Knicks know how good Paul can be. While he's having a slight dip in offensive production (18.7 points per game last season to 16.1 this season) -- as is the entire Hornets team (100.2 ppg to 94.7) -- he's leading the Hornets on the defensive end (2.4 steals per game), as they are the third-best team in the league in points allowed (92.6 ppg).

You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.