for this game

Lee continues stellar play as Knicks top Magic

Feb 21, 2007 - 5:17 AM NEW YORK (Ticker) -- After starring in Las Vegas, David Lee played Madison Square Garden.

Lee had 14 points and 16 rebounds and Eddy Curry added 20 points as the New York Knicks started the second half of the season off well, staving off a late run by the Orlando Magic in a 100-94 victory.

The Knicks (24-30) are playing under a mandate by owner James Dolan to make "significant progress" this season or coach Isiah Thomas would be fired. With the win, New York trails the Magic (27-27)and Miami (26-26) by three games for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

"There's only 28 (games) left so you need to win as many as possible," Knicks guard Jamal Crawford said. "They're one of them (teams in the race). You kind of think about it a little bit. You know you have to play well every game."

Thomas warned that the race might even get crowded.

"If we do arrive (in the playoff contention), tonight's game was an important game because now we hold the tiebreaker (against Orlando)," Thomas said. "If there's a tie, and we end up with the same record, we would own the tiebreaker so it was a very important win for us from that standpoint."

A candidate for Most Improved Player, Lee scored 30 points and shot a perfect 14-of-14 from the field in Friday's Rookie-Sophomore Challenge to earn MVP honors during All-Star weekend. He was honored before the game, showing off his trophy and receiving an ovation from the crowd.

"(Lee) is becoming more of a threat than just offensive and defensive rebounding," Curry said. "He's turned into a guy who can take the ball into the post and get to the free-throw line and that's what we need."

Lee proved that on Tuesday. The NBA's most accurate shooter at 61 percent entering the game, he shot an efficient 4-of-7 from the field and 6-of-7 from the line, injecting his squad with much-needed energy.

"I didn't get many opportunities offensively in the first half," Lee said. "I just tried to help our team get that victory. Isiah left me in there in the second half for nearly the whole half. I really found a nice rhythm and I was able to get going. It was one of those halfs where it felt good."

Leading by 10 points with 5:20 left, the Knicks went cold, allowing the Magic back into the game. Orlando guard Jameer Nelson's 3-pointer capped a 10-3 run to make it 94-91 with 1:20 left. But the Magic would not get any closer.

"It was definitely a grind-out game," New York guard Stephon Marbury said. "It was a tough game to play. The first night back from the All-Star break is always tough because you have three or four days of not doing anything of not touching the basketball. You come in and you get one practice. So, it's just different. It's a different feel."

All-Star Dwight Howard collected 27 points and 14 rebounds for Orlando, which shot 42 percent (36-of-85) to absorb its fifth loss in the last seven games.

"I thought about (the playoff race) during the game," Howard said. "This might be one of the teams we battle for one of the positions for the playoffs. They are a great team that plays together. Anybody can go off on any given night. Tonight, Lee went off. The last time we played them, Channing Frye went off."

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