Dealing with a new set of drama sparked from a pre-game press conference Thursday, the Magic suffered from much more than a 96-80 loss.
For the entire season, the team dealt with the constant questions surrounding the future of its superstar, only to receive a partial answer.
Only Van Gundy revealed his intentions to have him fired publicly just hours before last night’s contest against the Knicks.
Just three weeks until the 2012 NBA playoffs tip-off and the Magic has been reeling.
Since the All-Star break, Orlando has gone 10-10 and entered Thursday’s contest with New York on a four game losing streak, matching its longest slide of the year.
Howard had missed the previous two contests with a back spasms as the team fell to Denver and Detroit.
Even though Howard has missed just eight regular season games since entering the league as the first overall pick of the 2004 NBA Draft, members of the Magic front office believed he was exaggerating the injury and could have played.
Back in the lineup for a game on national television, the Magic came on strong, building an eight point lead in the first quarter before New York seized control of the game.
The Knicks closed the opening quarter on a 12-2 run, capped off by a tip in dunk from rookie Iman Shumpert to put New York up 23-21, a lead it never surrendered.
In his first quarter after Van Gundy’s announcement, Howard missed both of his shot attempts, scored zero points and committed three turnovers.
Tyson Chandler once again was able to keep Howard in check, holding him to eight points, eight rebounds, three blocks and forced five turnovers.
As much as Chandler kept him in check, Howard was plagued by foul trouble throughout the night.
While posting up Chandler with nine minutes remaining in the third quarter, Howard lowered his shoulder, crashed into him, picking up his fourth foul and prevented himself from becoming a factor. Chandler finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Howard has been held to under 10 points just three times this season, twice against New York.
In three games against the Knicks this season, Howard is averaging 9.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.7 turnovers per game.
As Howard struggled, the rest of the team failed to pick up the slack, a problem that has plagued Orlando throughout the season.
The Magic was outscored in all four quarters, lost the rebound battle 41-35 to a much smaller team and allowed New York, a terrible three-point shooting team, to connect 13 times and shoot 52 percent from beyond the arc.
With so much on the line, Orlando once again played lethargic.
The loss marked the first time the team has lost five consecutive games since Van Gundy took over in the 2007-08 season and dropped the Magic to 32-23 on the year, the same record as Atlanta.
Since the Hawks own the tiebreaker with Orlando, the Magic fell to fifth in the Eastern Conference playoff race and surrendered home court advantage in the opening round.
The Magic can’t be taken a serious championship contenders because of its inability to play consistently on a nightly basis.
Orlando is 3-9 against Chicago, Miami, Boston and Atlanta this season, the teams it would have to play on the road this post season.
Thursday marked the 13th time this season Orlando scored less than 85 points.
During its five game losing streak, the Magic are surrendering 102 points per game, an eight point increase over its season average.
By trying to cater to Howard, enabling him to dictate the future of his coach, the Magic have tossed away its legitimacy as a franchise.
Orlando doesn’t have a solid long term commitment from its best player, is pushing out its coach that has guided the team to a Finals appearance and 50 or more wins each of the past four years.
In five seasons together, Howard and Van Gundy have won 254 regular season games, following Thursday’s meltdown, the duo may never win together again.