WHEN LAST THEY MET
On March 18, 2021, the short-handed Knicks pulled a 94-93 victory out of their hat. The game pre-dated Orlando’s talent fire sale. Nikola Vučević (17 PTS, 16 REB), Evan Fournier (23 PTS), and Aaron Gordon (17 PTS) still played on the team. Steve Clifford coached.
The game was an anomaly for NY. Frank Ntilikina started at point guard, played 27 minutes, and scored 13. Usual lead guard Elfrid Payton had a bad hamstring and back-up Derrick Rose had COVID. Julius Randle carried the day with a triple-double (18/10/17). Reggie Bullock, in reserve, dropped 20. Their record evened at 21-21.
Last season was rough in Orlando. Due to the injury bug, they cycled through twenty-eight different players. Recent draft picks hadn’t panned out. The much-heralded, but raw, center Mo Bamba had been slow to improve. They had just enough talent to sniff the bottom rung of the playoffs.
Cue the rebuild.
The Orlandos traded Vooch, Gordon, and Fournier, netting draft picks and parting gifts. They drafted PG Jalen Suggs (5th) and SF Franz Wagner (8th). They ditched Dwayne Bacon, who had led the team in minutes. They brought in C Robin Lopez and OAKAAK Iggy Brazdeikis. Thibs’ best buddy Clifford agreed to clean out his desk.
They hired rookie coach Jamahl Mosley, known for developing young talent. He seems a smart skipper for a very wet-behind-the-ears crew.
This season, the Magic will feature their young guns heavily. They went 1-3 in preseason. Their lone win was a tight 103-102 over the Celtics. (Hey, didn’t we just smash those guys?)
And Bamba has played better. He averaged 11.5 PPG, 7 REB, and 3.75 BLKS in preseason. Against the Spurs on opening night, he logged 18 points, four rebounds, and four blocks. So, there’s a glimmer.
Gonzaga alum Suggs scored 10 points in 30 minutes as a starter against the Spurs. He should be worth a League Pass watch now and then during the season. Jalen will get a taste of an Evan Fournier determined to stick it to his old club. That is, if Fournier is still upright after Wednesday’s marathon.
Cole Anthony is...rambunctious. Look for Kemba Walker to start against him, but get an early hook to rest his knees. If this game is easily in hand early on, why not give Miles McBride some live ball action?
The Magic will likely start a frontcourt tandem of Wendell Carter, Jr and Bamba. They combined for 31 points and 12 rebounds on opening night. It’s fair to expect about the same production again.
C Taj Gibson is questionable to return to the starting lineup after the delivery of his child. Mitchell Robinson—coming off an incredible 11 point, 17 rebound, 2 block night against the Celtics—will follow off the bench if Taj plays. Nerlens Noel is ruled out due to his knee issue. My worry festers.
Rookie Wagner has yet to light any fires, but Orlando is committed to starting him. On Wednesday, he led the team in minutes, playing 32 and going 12/4/2. RJ Barrett should seize the opportunity to juice his statistics.
This has the makings of a trap game. The Knicks might be hungover from a slugfest and then travel to Florida. Pitted against an easy opponent, they might lay back for the first three quarters. Trust New York to drop the hammer in the fourth.
The Magic are 61-58 all-time versus the Knicks. After Friday, it will be 61-59.
Orlando, FL. Friday, October 22, 2021, 7:00 PM. Go Knicks.