ORLANDO, Fla. — The Knicks aren’t officially in the lottery yet, but their chances of winning that might be better than their odds of making the playoffs.
It doesn’t mean the Knicks are going to stop trying, though.
Without Carmelo Anthony because of a knee injury, the Knicks fell behind 11-0 and 22-8 to the Magic on Monday night. But just when it appeared they were about to improve their chances of getting a higher draft pick, the Knicks said no tanks. They opened the fourth quarter on a 23-4 run and pulled away from the Magic, 113-105.
It was their first victory without Anthony since the 2014-15 season. “It felt like a total team win,” Kristaps Porzingis said.
The Knicks (26-38) remain in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, 5 ½ games out of the last playoff spot with 18 to play. It’s a long long shot, but they played Monday night as if something were on the line.
Down 92-85 to start the fourth quarter, the Knicks outscored the Magic 28-13 in the final 12 minutes. They did it without Derrick Rose and with newly signed rookie guard Chasson Randle playing the entire quarter. They did it with Porzingis on the bench in foul trouble for the first 8:29 and with Kyle O’Quinn playing a huge role after playing only 20 seconds in the first three quarters.
“That’s what it’s going to take for us to continue to be successful going forward, especially chasing this playoff run,” Courtney Lee said. “We have everybody be available and be ready to play.”
Lee led seven Knicks in double figures with 20 points. Lance Thomas, who sparked the Knicks defensively in the fourth, added 17. Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez had 14 each.
But O’Quinn’s impact was huge. He didn’t enter the game until 20 seconds remained in the third quarter when Hernangomez left after getting popped in the eye by Bismack Biyombo.
O’Quinn shot 5-for-6, scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds, all in the fourth quarter. He said he didn’t think he was going to play and wanted to make his presence felt when Jeff Hornacek shouted “KO!’’
“No, I think after halftime I was like, ‘I’ve been here,’ ” O’Quinn said. “I was expecting a DNP. But the game flows, things happen.
“I just didn’t want to go out there and play two minutes, three minutes. I just wanted to stay on the floor, and I think that’s what kept me going.”
Randle had a similar mentality in his first game playing extended minutes. He had seven points, five rebounds and five assists in 26 minutes and was a plus-27. Rose was a minus-23.
“It felt good, especially when you can go out there and play halfway decent and win a game,” Randle said. “I tried to come out there and play with energy, and the result was a win. I’m glad we came out and got it.”
Evan Fournier’s 25 paced the Magic (23-41). Elfrid Payton finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
Anthony’s absence increased the speculation that the Knicks have begun tanking in hopes of getting in the top five in the draft for one of the talented point guards.
Hornacek, however, said Anthony injured his knee in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Warriors when he hustled back to block a shot. Anthony remained in the back getting treatment and said he will play Wednesday night in Milwaukee.
“It got sore throughout the course of the day,” he said. “It was better for me to rest it and get these days and get ready for Milwaukee.”
Hornacek has maintained that the Knicks will continue to try to win games and that he’s not necessarily going to start playing the younger guys more. Not yet, at least.
But he did Monday night, as he started the second quarter with four rookies — Randle, Ron Baker, Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Hernangomez — with Justin Holiday.
“Until you’re out of it and it doesn’t look good, then you might take a look at that,” Hornacek said. “It would probably come from management.
“If we’re out of the playoffs, if we can start giving guys time, we’ll start doing that. Until then, we have veteran guys here who are never going to give up until we’re mathematically out of it. So we’re just going to continue to play and we’re going to continue to try to win games.”