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Knicks have no defense for fifth loss in row

Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks

Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks goes to the hoop in the first half against Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Orlando Magic at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Jeff Hornacek’s challenge for all-out effort fell on deaf ears as the Knicks let the Orlando Magic get anything it wanted Monday night.

But Hornacek got some players’ attention when he questioned their toughness and ability to play defense after the Knicks’ embarrassing 115-103 loss at Madison Square Garden.

Orlando is one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA and was playing the second half of a back-to-back, but the Magic had no problem mustering the energy to play hard. Orlando scored 67 first-half points, led by 18 in the fourth quarter and scored 16 points more than its season average.

This has been an ongoing problem for the Knicks, who have allowed 113.8 points per game during their five-game losing streak. They have lost eight of 10 to drop from 14-10 to 16-18.

“I have to find someone to play some defense,” Hornacek said. “We’ve got to have better pride in that. I don’t think our guys aren’t trying. Maybe we’re just not capable of it.”

Phil Jackson brought in defensive-minded players Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee and re-signed Lance Thomas, but the Knicks have been one of the NBA’s worst defensive teams all season.

Noah, a former Defensive Player of the Year, seemed bothered by Hornacek’s comments.

“I don’t know what to say about that,” he said. “I know I’m here, and I feel like this group can do a lot better.”

The Knicks, who were without Kristaps Porzingis (sore left Achilles) for the second straight game, can’t do much worse. The Knicks of 2017 look frighteningly like the team that ended 2016.

They showed little heart or desire to play winning basketball Monday night and could force Hornacek to change the starting lineup or use his bench more.

“Maybe you have to play some of these other guys,” he said. “We might have to mix the lineup up somehow.”

Hornacek said the coaching staff has been weighing that versus “getting panicked if we decide to change things up.”

Hornacek finally saw enough and pulled the starters after Aaron Gordon’s alley-oop dunk late in the game, which was emblematic of how easy things were for Orlando (16-20).

The Magic shot 15-for-31 on three-pointers and had three players score at least 20 points. Jodie Meeks scored 23 and Gordon and Serge Ibaka had 22 each.

Carmelo Anthony’s 19 points paced the Knicks, but Anthony, who sat out the second half Saturday night with a sore left knee, shot 6-for-17.

He tried to shoot the Knicks back into it in the third quarter, when the Knicks resorted to playing too much one-on-one. He was 2-for-7 in the Knicks’ 21-point quarter.

Derrick Rose had 18 points and Lee, back after missing the previous three games with a sore right wrist, finished with 14.

As the Knicks’ offense sputtered, their defense continued to crumble.

Orlando is not the Rockets, who scored 129 against the Knicks on Saturday night. But the Magic became the latest team to shred the Knicks’ defense.

“We just must not be good enough defensively,” Hornacek said. “We might have to start figuring out ways to trap, do some gimmicky defenses. They collectively across the board outhustled us and outmuscled us.”

Early in the season, the Knicks appointed associate head coach Kurt Rambis to run the defense. Hornacek said the coaches will meet to figure out how to guard teams differently.

Anthony said they need to get back in the gym and “compete or fight a couple of people in practice just to try to spark a fire.” The Knicks had none Monday night, as they trailed by double-digits for the last 15:38.

Down 17 late in the third quarter, the Knicks cut it to 92-82 on Justin Holiday’s dunk 1:34 into the fourth quarter. But the Knicks scored only one basket in the next 3:40 and fell behind 101-84 on Jeff Green’s three-pointer.

“Defensively, we’re not where we need to be,” Noah said. “Guys look at ourselves individually first, see what we can do better in terms of our effort, things like that. And then it’s about being on the same page. We’re all over the place right now.”

Anthony said the Knicks are on the same page. So clearly this team is not.

New York Sports