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Magic nipping at the heels of division-leading Knicks

No one can resist glancing at the board in the rear of the Orlando Magic locker room.

On that board are the Eastern Conference standings, which are becoming more interesting every day.

The Magic, which has won a club record seven straight games, trails the Atlantic Division-leading New York Knicks by just two games, one in the loss column. A division title would assure the Magic of home-court advantage at least in the first round of the playoffs and possibly in the conference semifinals.

"We talk about it, but we have to beat the teams behind us to catch the teams in front of us," guard Nick Anderson said.

"That's something that's out there, but what we have to be concerned about is getting as high as we can," veteran forward Jeff Turner added. "If we catch the Knicks along the way, great. But we want to finish in the top four spots. We can't get greedy at this point."

Especially now.

The Magic benefited from a kind schedule in February _ seven of its 10 games were at home. This month, Orlando plays 16 games. Nine are on the road, beginning with a four-game trip this week: Houston tonight, Dallas on Thursday, Denver on Friday and San Antonio on Sunday.

"We have to take each game one at a time," guard Anthony Bowie said. "We can't afford to think about what New York's doing. If we do, we'll be right back where we were at the beginning of the month (February) _ losing games we shouldn't be losing. If we continue taking it game by game, I don't think we'll have to worry about New York or anyone else. We'll be up in those standings."

Finally back: Power forward Larry Krystkowiak was all smiles after Sunday's win. And why not? He played. Finally.

Krystkowiak, signed as a free agent in the off-season to fill the team's most glaring need, injured his right foot Nov. 17 against Detroit and missed 45 games. He was activated last Wednesday, but did not play against Indiana or New Jersey.

"I just have to keep working hard," Krystkowiak said after Sunday's three-minute stint.

Poll results: According to a recent Sports Illustrated survey, Magic guard Scott Skiles is the active player who would make the best coach. He received five votes from NBA coaches, one more than New York guard Doc Rivers.

"I think the coaches are very astute," Skiles said, a grin coming to his face. "But they don't want to rush me into it. They don't want to coach against me."

Center Shaquille O'Neal was the player mentioned most to take first if starting a franchise. He received nine votes. San Antonio center David Robinson got five.

TV exposure: Sunday's victory over Charlotte ended the Magic's hex on NBC. It had lost to Chicago and New York on nationally-televised games on NBC this season. The Magic will appear on NBC four more times during the regular season.

Happy birthday: O'Neal turns 22 on Sunday and hopes to celebrate by "playing hard and having a good game" at San Antonio. He played high school ball in that city, but said he has no family or close friends there.

Did you know?: The Magic is just two wins shy of tying the club record for road wins (14) in a season and only eight wins from equaling the record for most wins (41).