The New York Knicks traded their leading scorer Thursday and fired their president two days earlier.
During what should be a time of turbulence, they are playing some of their best basketball of the season.
“Everyone knows we have a job to do. We are still a team. We’ve still got to keep pushing,” rookie RJ Barrett said. “We’ve still got to play every day and do our jobs and we did that tonight.”
And they left Orlando coach Steve Clifford screaming at the referees at halfcourt and criticizing them afterward for what he said was a lack of awareness in not granting him a timeout on the final possession.
Julius Randle scored 22 points, Taj Gibson had 19 and the Knicks beat the Magic 105-103 for their third straight victory.
Despite trading leading scorer Marcus Morris to the Clippers earlier in the day, the Knicks rallied from 10 down in the fourth quarter to match their longest winning streak of the season.
“They have been such a good group,” interim coach Mike Miller said, “the things that we have gone through as a team or the things that we have had individually and how they’ve been there for each other and how they’ve stuck together.”
Elfrid Payton had 15 points, nine assists and seven steals for the Knicks, who got Barrett back after he missed nine games with a sprained right ankle. He finished with 12 points.
Nikola Vucevic had 25 points and eight rebounds for the Magic, who lost for the seventh time in eight games. Clifford was trying desperately to get a timeout in the final seconds, but nobody on the court saw him and the Magic couldn’t get a shot off.
Clifford screamed at referees Tom Washington, Mitchell Ervin and Evan Scott after the game and had to be held back by Orlando assistant coaches.
He said the officials should have been aware that the Magic, after rebounding a Knicks miss with about 10 seconds left, would likely push the ball in transition and try to call a timeout if that didn’t work.
“There’s three of them. There’s a guy on the baseline and I just saw it. I mean, visibly I called timeout. I don’t understand how that timeout’s not called. That may cost me, I don’t care,” Clifford said.
“Like, again, when players don’t have awareness, you lose. Coaches have poor awareness, that was my fault tonight, you lose. The officials got to have awareness, too. Knowing the rules and knowing the game, and knowing the situation’s got to be part of it.”
With the timeout not granted, Evan Fournier ended up losing the ball for Orlando’s 21st turnover.
The Knicks scored 30 points in the first quarter and had a 13-point lead in the second, but the Magic surged ahead by outscoring them 36-22 in the third.
Orlando went ahead by 10 in the fourth quarter, but Wayne Ellington hit consecutive 3-pointers and added another later in the period. Payton’s 3-pointer tied it before a jumper by Randle and Gibson’s dunk gave New York a 100-96 edge with 3:49 to play.
Randle hit another jumper to make it 105-98 with 1:44 to play and the Knicks held on despite not scoring again.
Magic: The Magic acquired veteran forward James Ennis from the Philadelphia 76ers for a second-round pick in the 2020 draft. Clifford said Ennis would join the team Friday. Also, the Magic waived forward Amile Jefferson. … Orlando had won seven of the last nine meetings.
Knicks: Ellington and Reggie Bullock both had 12 points.
The Knicks received swingman Maurice Harkless and a 2020 first-round pick from the Clippers, and the draft rights to guard Issuf Sanon from Washington in the deal for Morris, who is fifth in the league in 3-point percentage. It gives the Knicks seven first-round selections in the next four years.
The Knicks plan to hire agent Leon Rose to take over their basketball operations, a person with knowledge of the details said. Rose will replace Steve Mills, who was fired as team president on Tuesday, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because talks are ongoing.
Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan said in a statement he hopes to wrap up his search for a new president quickly.
“I am not selling, but I am determined to find the right leader for the Knicks who will ensure the long-term success of the team, just as we did with the hiring of Rangers President John Davidson,” Dolan said.
Magic: Host Milwaukee on Saturday.
Knicks: Visit Detroit on Saturday.
Knicks Edge Magic 105-103 for Third Straight Win