ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Knicks have been through their own turbulence this season, and Thursday night, they took advantage of a team embroiled in major turmoil right now.

The timing couldn't have been better for the Knicks, who are in a fight for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They dominated the Orlando Magic, 96-80, to open a 1½-game lead on ninth-place Milwaukee.

It was the Knicks' second lopsided win over the Magic in nine days, and both times it appeared as though Dwight Howard has stopped playing for coach Stan Van Gundy.

Van Gundy and Howard are in a power struggle that went public about seven hours before tipoff. After the morning shootaround, Van Gundy said he knows Howard went to Magic executives and tried to get him fired. Then Howard played as if he were trying to get Van Gundy fired.

Howard returned after missing two games because of back spasms, and despite being on the floor for 40 minutes, he was largely invisible. He scored his first basket and points on a dunk with 3.5 seconds left in the third quarter and finished with eight points, eight rebounds, five turnovers and five fouls.

The Knicks (28-27) went through their own issues earlier in the season as Mike D'Antoni resigned amid a perceived struggle with Carmelo Anthony. Since Mike Woodson took over as interim coach, Anthony is playing harder on both ends and the Knicks have gone 10-3.

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Anthony scored 19 points and didn't play in the fourth quarter. Toney Douglas, who has rejoined the rotation with Jeremy Lin out, and J.R. Smith each had 15 off the bench. Tyson Chandler, who was the best center in the building, had 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Anthony had 17 points in the first half, 17 more than Howard. The Magic center looked disinterested as he took two shots and had nearly as many turnovers (three) as rebounds (four) before halftime.

This was a huge win for the Knicks, who blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead and lost to the Pacers Tuesday night. They don't play again until Sunday, when they open a home-and-home against the Chicago Bulls before playing a huge game in Milwaukee.

"We didn't collapse like we did in the fourth quarter in Indiana up 15,'' Woodson said. "They rebounded well. This was a big win for us.''

"As far as the standings goes, there's a lot going on," Anthony said. "We just want to focus on us. We're not really worried about nobody else. Coach keeps saying we control our destiny, and we believe that."

The Knicks expected the Magic to seek revenge after a 22-point loss at the Garden last week in which Orlando had trailed by 39. But this was before all the drama from the morning.

The Knicks had a 33-point second quarter and led by 12 at the half. They moved ahead 69-54 with 4:08 left in the third when Baron Davis fed Chandler for a dunk. The Knicks went up 76-59 and led by 15 after three quarters.

It was the same situation as Tuesday, but the Knicks didn't let history repeat itself. In Indiana, their lead kept diminishing. Against the Magic, they extended it to 21 in the fourth period.

The Knicks missed nine of their first 11 shots in the game, but the second quarter was almost the exact opposite. After misfiring on their first attempt, the Knicks made nine straight and 10 of 11.

That shooting exhibition included six three-pointers, three by Smith. The emotional sixth man's third one gave the Knicks a 51-41 lead with 3:56 left in the second. The Knicks were 9-for-15 overall from three in the opening half.