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Magic 95, Knicks 83 “So Randle isn’t Jokic?”

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The Knicks add yet another fake comeback to their collection

New York Knicks v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

We’re only five games into the 2019-20 season, and this new-look Knicks roster is already honoring their predecessors with their commitment to the fake comeback. Of their four losses, three are of the fake comeback variety. If you include the final two preseason games against the Hawks and Pelicans, that makes five in just nine total games! Truly impressive stuff!

The game got off to a sluggish start, and that sluggishness would persist throughout the game. The Knicks weren’t alone in their offensive ineptitude. Let’s give some credit to their hosts too. While the Knicks were ISOing their way into the early 90’s, the Magic achieved much the same with a more artistic, eye-catching approach, what with all their ball and player movement. All in all, both teams farted their way to a truly craptastic 44-42 halftime score with our heroes edging it after two quarters.

The only highlights of note in the first half were some cool Julius Randle-to-Mitchell Robinson lobs out of pick-and-roll, and Frank Ntilikina hitting his first triple of the year on a buzzer-beating chuck from 35 feet out to end the first quarter. If nothing else, the latter was a just reward for a horrific shooter willing to take such a low percentage shot with no fear of hurting his percentages. Maybe it’s because he can’t hurt his percentages that he was so willing. Who knows. I was happy with it.

Out of the break, Jonathan Isaac hit two well-contested mid-range jumpers over Mitch, because God is a Celtics fan. That was quickly followed with everybody falling asleep and giving D.J. Augustin a wide open, uncontested look from beyond the arc which he tripled. Timeout was called quickly by David Fizdale, but even after the timeout the Magic continued their spurt, extending the lead out to as many as 12.

Looking for a shot in the arm, Fizdale called on his bench to turn the tide, and they answered. Ntilikina, Damyean Dotson, Kevin Knox, and Bobby Portis helped cut the lead to just five by the end of the quarter. With 8:06 left in the fourth quarter, Ntilikina hit Portis for a three out of a pick-and-pop set, their second such hook-up in the period, to finally put the Knicks up 80-79.

Then it all went to shit. The Knicks stumbled and bumbled their way into stagnant ISO after stagnant ISO. Orlando farted their way into enough functional offense to pull away by just cutting and screening a little bit to pull away and cruise to the win.

Hello darkness, my old friend.

Notes:

  • I’ve never coached basketball at any level. I’m not an expert. I’m a guy who watches a lot of basketball, has a Twitter account, occasionally cuts clips that I think are cool, and writes for free, infrequently, on this here blog. As a relative layman I feel certain I could have done a better job coaching the Knicks in the fourth quarter than Fizdale did. With the bench unit rolling, but Dotson sucking wind, understandably given his lack of playing time over the summer, Fiz needed to make a sub. His choice was to introduce Marcus Morris into the fold, and move Knox to the two, in a lineup that also featured Ntilikina, Randle, and Portis. Predictably, they sucked it up, coughed up the lead and forced Fiz to call a timeout after falling down four.
  • If you’re looking for positives, you came to the wrong recap. Just a warning.
  • I want to like Fiz. I would love for him to be a good head coach. Five games into his second season with the Knicks, I’m just not seeing enough. For a coach who constantly preaches a commitment and desire to moving the ball, he continuously fields lineups that will never do it, no matter how much you beg them to.
  • Maybe you’re one of those arguing that it’s possible players like Morris and Randle are breaking off sets on their own and sabotaging the free-flowing offense Fizdale is totally attempting to implement. Sure, I guess that’s a possibility, but if that’s what’s happening then isn’t it on Fiz to get them in line? If he can’t, isn’t he still at fault for letting them freelance without repercussion?
  • The more damning and more likely possibility is that Fiz wants to run these sets. The consistency with which we’ve been treated to Randle face-up ISOs from the top of the key or stagnant post-ups after clearing out the side from 18 feet out is innumerable through just five games. At least Randle is capable of creating for others when he’s not tripping over himself. The Morris ISOs are far worse, because you know that one way or another he’s going to chuck up some bullshit.
  • To be fair to Fizdale, some of the Morris stuff is beyond his control. I lost count of how many times the ball would be kicked to him with a chance to launch an in-rhythm three, only for him to pass up on the opportunity so he could put the ball on the deck and take an off-balance mid-range jumper. Then again, maybe when he does that shit you can hold him accountable by taking him off the floor?
  • Really I just don’t know what Fizdale is attempting to achieve with many of his rotations. If you want to play bully ball that’s wonderful, but even bullies need space to flex their muscles. The Knicks lack shooters with Dotson just returning, and Reggie Bullock (prayers up for his loss) out with injury, and spacing was an expected challenge. However, Fiz isn’t optimizing what he does have at his disposal and, in turn, is making it exceedingly difficult for his bullies to bully.
  • Fiz has made good in-game adjustments with his rotations and tactically at various points throughout the season. I praised him for coaching a near-perfect second half against the Bulls just the other night, but on the aggregate it always feels like he’s costing you more than he’s getting you with his decision making.
  • Stop playing Randle and Morris together for extended periods of time. Thanks.
  • Randle’s defense was an abomination at various points today, none more glaring than his back-to-back brain farts late in the fourth with the Knicks trailing 82-86. Coming out of a timeout with 3:10 left, which was preceded by Randle dribbling the ball off his foot for the umpteenth time, he proceeded to lose track of Aaron Gordon who canned a triple, and on the subsequent possesion fail to box him out, giving him an easy putback. Game, set, match. Double-doubles are cool. Taking a nap on defense during winning time isn’t. Step the fuck up, Julius.
  • To his credit, Julius owned his struggles and there was improvement today, but in crunch time he reverted to form. Gotta trust what got you there, buddy.
  • Just the 19 minutes for Mitchell Robinson today. He’s still a step slow on some rotations, but he continues to look more focused defensively and remains a force unto himself on the offensive glass. Him and RJ Barrett already have a nice lob connection. Just the one foul in those minutes tonight.
  • Fiz cutting Mitch’s minutes because of offensive fit issues between him and Randle seems like it should go the other way sometimes too, right? Mitch is obviously a far more limited offensive player, but his vertical threat is a weapon in its own right that Fiz can’t lose sight of. Shifting some of the power forward minutes from Randle to Portis would space the floor better and seems like a way to maximize Mitch more.
  • RJ struggled quite a bit tonight. Bricked a couple of free throws early, hit the side of the backboard on a corner three, and he got caught ball watching on defense a couple of times. Just the 9/2/2 line in 31 minutes tonight. Rookie shit. We go again.
  • Maybe expecting RJ to be a lone ball handler for so much of his on-court time isn’t such a good idea.
  • I’m not going to talk about Frank a bunch. His defense has definitely become more impactful with his improved physicality. He showed off his improved handle at times, and did well to create nice shots out of pick-and-pop for Portis and Taj Gibson. The seven-point first quarter was nice. So were the four assists and zero turnovers.
  • He still needs to be more aggressive in looking to create consistently throughout the game, especially when Morris and Randle are suffocating the offense to death. Those are the times the point guard has to take charge. Frank has to take the reins in moments like that to prove himself.
  • Frank and Portis have a fun connection brewing in pick-and-pop.
  • I had no issue with Fizdale choosing to use Frank off the bench.
  • Kevin Knox reverted to an annoying rookie year habit of taking unnecessary, early-clock, pull-up mid-range jumpers. Let’s not do that again, Kevin.
  • Twenty-three minutes for Knox and 31 for Morris. Neither played particularly well tonight, but Knox’s fuck-ups have been quick decision, within-the-flow-of-the-offense fuck-ups. Morris’ are of the exasperating, soul-crushing variety, which kill the entire rhythm and flow of the team. At the very least those minutes should be closer to even, if not entirely weighted to Kev, given Morris’ stinky butt play last night and for most of the season so far.
  • Damyean Dotson returned for the first time this regular season. The spacing was much better with him and Knox on the floor together. He also looked ready to keel over after both of his stints on the court. He needs some time to get his shit together, but he needs to be in the rotation.
  • Wayne Ellington sucked today. Whatever. I still think that he has value for a team as stagnant as ours, even when he’s not connecting on shots on a given night.
  • If I have to go through an entire season watching all of our bigs aside from Taj refuse to make contact on screens and it not improving, I’m going to go crazy. Screens are a super important aspect of running a free-flowing offense!
  • Felt like a game where giving Allonzo Trier some spin was worth the roll of the dice.
  • These Knicks keep showing fight to get back into games. That they keep falling behind and failing to execute down the stretch once they’ve clawed themselves back into it is extremely frustrating, though.
  • The Nets lost 118-108 to the winless Pacers back at Barclays. Their takeover is off to nearly as good of a start as the Knicks’ season. At least they have a leader like Kyrie to be a shining light in such trying times.

The Knicks dropped to 1-4 through their first five games this season after the loss to Orlando. I’m sure before the season started, nobody would have been too annoyed by that given our opening schedule, but having watched it play out, it’s hard not to think they could easily have grabbed an extra win or two.

Quoth marcus7: “So Randle isn’t Jokic?” No, he’s not, but it’s not clear if Fizdale has figured that out yet or not. We’ll see if Fiz comes to that realization on Friday against the Celtics. Until then stay sober and remember, your body is a temple.