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Magic 114, Knicks 100: “Hezonja should pretend he’s playing Orlando every game”

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Orlando was the mushroom for Super Mario

NBA: New York Knicks at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

When looking back on this lost 2018-19 New York Knicks season, I predict that one debate will rage on for eternity.

No, it won’t be “Was Mitchell Robinson the greatest rookie of all time?” because that’s already been settled — he obviously is. It won’t be “Was the Kristaps Porzingis trade a good one?” because who really cares about that, honestly?

The question that will burn Knicks fans for years will be: “Which game was truly the Mario Hezonja Game?”

I, and I’d assume probably a few other people, rolled my eyes when Hezonja drew the start for this one, replacing Luke Kornet. Kornet had just broken his career high in points last game, and Luke and Mitch had been developing a nice chemistry together in the starting lineup.

But Hezonja was objectively impressive in this game, pouring in a team-high 29 points with some truly inspired play on both ends in what I guess was a “revenge game” for him. I put “revenge game” in quotes because it didn’t seem like Mario held any resentment towards Orlando, but apparently he did! Now there’s a legitimate case to be had that this, and not the LeBron-crushing Lakers win, was actually the premiere Mario Hezonja game of the 2018-19 season.

Of course, the Knicks as a whole didn’t end up winning — they lost, 114-100, facing a team that actually had something to play for. The Knicks will face two more teams with something to play for this year (Houston on Friday and the Pistons to close the season next Wednesday) and two more that don’t (Washington on Sunday and Chicago on Tuesday), so we should probably start bracing ourselves for the Knicks at least tying the franchise-low 17-65 record of 2014-15, and more than likely setting a new mark for futility.

But hey, for now, it’s fine to bask in the light of Super Mario’s aura.

The Knicks started off playing well in this one, ripping off an eight-point 22-14 lead in the first quarter in large part to Hezonja, Kevin Knox and Robinson’s play on both ends. Hez would get himself into foul trouble early because he seemed a little too jacked up for this one — predictably, once Lance Thomas replaced him in the lineup (along with John Jenkins replacing Damyean Dotson and Luke Kornet replacing Mitch), the Magic ripped off a 12-4 run to end the first and tie things up.

From there, things wouldn’t get better for the Knicks. The Magic thrashed them (and their interesting G-League lineup of John Jenkins, Billy Garrett, Luke Kornet, Henry Ellenson and Lance Thomas) for the whole second quarter, winning it 32-19.

The Knicks recovered a bit towards the end of the third quarter, narrowing the deficit to 76-74 behind some more inspired play by Hezonja and Knox, but then Terrence Ross ripped off a solo 9-0 run in the final 1:05 to put the Knicks back in their place. They would never really recover from there.

But there were definitely some silver linings to be had. Let’s get into that in the notes:

— As already mentioned numerous times, Hezonja had himself a game. The final line for Super Mario: a career-high 29 points on 11-22 shooting, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals. Quite a night for Hez.

Interestingly enough, Mario didn’t really do any damage from outside for a guy who’s always been (rightly or wrongly) lauded as a shooter — he shot just 1-5 from three. This one was all just him taking his frustrations out in the paint. Of course, he still had to remind you at least one time why he’s still considered a player that has yet to cash in on his massive reserves of potential:

— Speaking of massive reserves of potential, how about Kevin Knox? The rook had 21 points on 7-13 shooting (3-5 from three) in another standout night. The thing with Knox these last few games seems to be that he’s not being asked to do more than what he’s good at.

Where during his cold streak Knox would essentially be handed the ball at the top of the key and effectively be told, “figure it out,” now, he’s just being asked to play to his strengths — line drives to the hoop, spot-up shooting and looks in transition. The newfound role has even allowed Kev to try some new things out in-game that we hadn’t previously seen much of from him:

In addition to his play on offense, Knox seemed to draw some inspiration from Hezonja on defense today. I’d say this game was one of the better defensive efforts I’ve seen from Knox this season (which is a low bar to clear, but still).

— Speaking again of massive reserves of potential, I would like to present the Blockness Monster, Mitchell Robinson. First off, there was some confusion during the game as to whether Mitch’s 25-game streak with two or more blocks was still alive or not — Mike Breen announced on-air that it had come to an end at 25 games, but every source of stats on the internet says that Mitch had two blocks. So I’m going to assume the MSG statistician had it wrong, and Mitch’s streak is still alive at 26 games, pushing him past David Robinson for the second-longest two-block streak in rookie history.

As far as the rest of his play, what else is there left to say about Mitch? He stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points on 6-9 shooting, nine rebounds, two blocks and three steals. There was perhaps not a more impressive Mitch sequence than this one:

It’s also worth noting that Mitch didn’t log his first (and second) block until the fourth quarter, which had less to do with him and more to do with the fact that it was obvious the Magic had game-planned to not attack him in the paint. This guy is already changing how teams play the game. Scary times for the rest of the league as Mitch continues to get better.

Damyean Dotson played 36 minutes, scored seven points, and had a team-high +9 tonight, but I swear I don’t remember a minute of his time out there.

Emmanuel Mudiay played 40 minutes, shot 3-13 for 13 points, had 10 assists, seven rebounds, and a -7 plus/minus. Unfortunately, I feel like I remember every second of his time out there.

— Mitch and DeAndre Jordan continue to have such a fun father/son (or big bro/little bro, whatever floats your boat) dynamic:

— So I kind of riffed on the John Jenkins, Billy Garrett, Luke Kornet, Lance Thomas, Henry Ellenson lineup earlier, and make no mistake, it wasn’t a very good look on the court. But I did think it was neat that all those guys (minus Lance) got out there at the same time. It really speaks volumes to how good the Knicks’ development staff has been in Westchester that this many guys have made it to the NBA level (including Kadeem Allen, too).

It also says a lot that the Knicks even brought Garrett in in the first place, despite already giving him a bonus from a preseason Exhibit 10 contract along with his G-League salary. I think there’s a reason that the public opinion of the Knicks seems to be shifting lately, and treating lower-tier players with respect is a large part of it.

To quote commenter marcus7, “Hezonja should pretend he’s playing Orlando every game.” Indeed, he should. If he did, the Knicks might have an All-NBA player on their hands. Can we get Hez some special contacts that make him see blue all the time? Also, let’s put this baby to bed:

Poll

Best Mario Hezonja game of 2018-19?

This poll is closed

  • 87%
    Sonning LeBron and the Lakers to death
    (236 votes)
  • 12%
    The Orlando Revenge Game
    (33 votes)
269 votes total Vote Now