Magic 112, Knicks 99
If there was any question how important point guard Elfrid Payton is to running the Orlando Magic's offense smoothly that has been put to rest.
After missing the previous eight games because of a left hamstring injury, Payton returned to the floor against New York on Wednesday night. The Magic found their rhythm and winning touch with Payton back in the lineup in a victory over the short-handed Knicks.
Payton had 11 points and 11 assists in 29 minutes.
“A sight for sore eyes,” said Magic coach Frank Vogel, whose team ended a two-game losing streak Wednesday night. “That’s what it was for me seeing Elfrid Payton back out there.”
Suddenly, the spacing was there, the ball was moving and the Magic players were getting the ball just where they wanted it. And it took Aaron Gordon exactly 32 seconds into the game for Payton to find him flying toward the basketball for one of their signature alley-oop connections.
Payton was indeed back and so was the Magic’s offensive explosiveness.
“It was really cool just to have Frank be so aware that I hadn’t gotten a lob in a while,” Gordon said. “EP was back, he knew that play was going to be open, and we hadn’t run it while.”
The Magic (7-4) had played without Payton for nearly 2 [½] weeks and have been without backup D.J. Augustin (hamstring) the last three games. That left Orlando with one healthy point guard, third-stringer Shelvin Mack who wasn’t use to playing with the starting unit.
But the Magic looked more like the team that started fast Wednesday night. They shot 54 percent from the floor and 46 percent from 3-point range with Payton running the show most of the night despite his hamstring still feeling tight.
Nikola Vucevic led five Magic players in double figures with 24 points while Evan Fournier added 23 and Gordon finished with 21 points.
Payton was only too glad to be back out there creating for his teammates.
“It feels good,” he said. “That’s what I’m here for to make everybody’s job as easy as possible.”
The Knicks, meanwhile, were out of sorts with Kristaps Porzingis out of the lineup with ankle and elbow injuries sidelining him for the night. With the NBA’s second-leading scorer not on the floor, the Knicks only found consistent scoring from Tim Hardaway, Jr., who led all scorers with 26.
Otherwise, they were marred in inconsistency as their three-game winning streak came to an end. New York (6-5) committed 23 turnovers with Orlando jumping the passing lanes for 16 steals.
“That was a big difference in the game,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said about the turnovers. “(The Magic) had a little more energy.”
But the Knicks, playing a back-to-back, managed to keep the game relatively close until early in the fourth quarter. That’s when Jonathon Simmons came off the bench for Magic and scored 11 straight points during a stretch to help Orlando re-establish a double-digit lead.
Simmons, who had played backup point in Payton’s absence, scored 15 of his 16 points in the second half in his more natural wing role.
“When we’re at our best, it’s with the starting unit doing what they are doing and Simmons coming in and running the show with the second unit,” Vogel said. “So EP has a ripple effect, putting Simmons back in his natural environment.”
Forward Michael Beasley started in place of injured Porzingis. Beasley scored four points. Point guard Jarrett Jack converted 3 of 4 field goals in the first half and had four assists but he also had four turnovers. He finished with six turnovers on the night.
Warriors 125, Timberwolves 101
Klay Thompson scored 28 points with six 3-pointers, Stephen Curry had 22 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, and Golden State beat Minnesota for its fifth straight win.
Even without injured Kevin Durant, the defending champs began to look like their dominant old selves.
Draymond Green posted another all-round balanced performance with seven points, six rebounds, six assists and two blocks for the Warriors, who played without NBA Finals MVP Durant as he nursed a bruised left thigh. Andre Iguodala started in place of Durant, and the 2015 Finals MVP scored a season-high 11 points.
Andrew Wiggins scored 17 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 16 points and 12 rebounds as the Timberwolves had their five-game winning streak snapped.
Pistons 114, Pacers 97
Tobias Harris scored 23 points and first-place Detroit won for the sixth time in seven games, beating Indiana.
Andre Drummond added 14 points and 21 rebounds for the Pistons. They lead Cleveland by three games in the Central Division. Indiana lost its fourth straight.
Victor Oladipo led the Pacers with 21 points, but Indiana has allowed at least 100 points in 10 of 12 games this season. The Pacers were without injured big man Domantas Sabonis (bruised right calf).
Heat 126, Suns 115
Former Phoenix guard Goran Dragic scored a season-high 29 points in Miami's victory over the Suns.
The Heat made 12 3-pointers, shot 53.1 percent overall and never trailed. Hassan Whiteside added 23 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots for Miami.
Devin Booker led Phoenix with 30 points. The Suns have lost four straight.
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