The first official post-Starbury game for the Knicks produced yet another look at the potential of the next era, but also a reminder that it's still not quite enough to overcome one of the NBA's elite in a 114-109 loss to the Orlando Magic last night at the Garden.
And after a late show of brilliant and confident shooting by rookie Danilo Gallinari, Mike D'Antoni has some serious thinking to do about his rotation and his previous decision to choose veterans over the precocious 20-year-old Italian.
Gallinari, who had eight points and five rebounds in 13:12 of playing time, hit all three of his shot attempts for the game, which all came in the final 1:45 and each of the Big Shot category. The biggest came on a three-pointer with 24.2 seconds left off a swing pass from Chris Duhon that brought the Knicks within 109-107. The Magic, however, hit five of six from the free-throw line in the final 24 seconds to hold off the late Knicks rally.
Nate Robinson continued his torrid month of February with 32 points off the bench -- his fifth 30-plus performance in his last seven games -- Wilson Chandler had 22 of his 27 points in the second half and Al Harrington had 26 points for the Knicks (24-33). David Lee, who barely extended his double-double streak to 21 straight with 10 points and 10 rebounds, did not play in the final 8:53 as D'Antoni went with a smaller, shooting lineup.
Hedo Turkoglu had 33 points and Dwight Howard had 24 points and 21 rebounds for Orlando (42-15).
Larry Hughes' shooting woes continued with a 1-for-6 performance for two points in 15:07. Hughes has hit only four of 22 shots from the field in his first three games as a Knick. But Duhon has also struggled lately -- something D'Antoni called "a little bit of the February blues" -- and was 0-for-6 from the floor and zero points. But he did have 10 assists in 36:33.
The Knicks seemed to be trailing by at least 10 points for the entire game (they were down 25-15 after the first quarter), but managed to finally carve into the deficit late in the fourth quarter. Harrington hit a mid-range shot off the glass with 3:47 left in the game to bring the Knicks within 94-89. But the Magic answered with a three-pointer by Rafer Alston and after Robinson hit one of two from the line, Rashard Lewis drained a three with 2:59 left to extend the Orlando lead back to 10 at 100-90.
Gallinari sat for most of the first three quarters until D'Antoni decided to put the rookie in with 1:13 left in the third. With a desperate need for shooting, Gallinari was the preferred choice over newcomer Chris Wilcox (two points, one rebound in 4:36).
Gallinari played 11 minutes before he even saw a shot attempt, but when the ball finally did come his way, he buried what was a critical three at the time to cut Orlando's lead to 103-97 with 1:45 left. On the next possession, Howard threw down a Turkoglu alley-oop pass and was fouled by Robinson for a three-point play -- yes, Superman overcame KryptoNate this time around -- to make it 106-97 with 1:31 left.
But the Knicks weren't done yet. Robinson hit two more free throws and Gallinari, who had watched Turkoglu score all night long off the step-back jumper, faced up against Howard and did the exact same thing -- pump-fake, dribble, step-back jumper -- that swished through to make it a 106-101 with 53.2 left.
Turkoglu then took on his fellow Euro, who has drawn comparisons to the Magic veteran from Turkey, and drilled a pull-up over Gallinari to make it 108-101.
Notes & quotes: Robinson will be featured tonight on TNT's NBA broadcast in a sit-down interview with John Thompson ... Anthony Mason was in attendance and drew a rousing cheer from the crowd. Patrick Ewing was also at the game -- he is an assistant coach with the Magic -- and received his usual standing ovation . . . Among the D-League players under consideration to fill some of the open roster spots, the Knicks may sign 7-foot project center Cheick Samb and also 6-8 guard Demetris Nichols, who was on the Knicks' training- camp roster as a rookie.