The Knicks (17-12) have arrived just about 20 minutes north of the Magic Kingdom to face the Orlando Magic (18-12) tonight, in what could prove to be a pivotal game in the standings come April. Currently, the Magic hold a one-game lead over the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Standings, securing the 5th place in the East, while the Knicks sit just a half-game out of the top six.
Following a disappointing 129-120 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night, questions are swirling around the Knicks’ rotation. When Mitchell Robinson went down with a season-ending injury, Coach Thibs announced that Isaiah Hartenstein would continue as the backup center, a role where he was more effective with the second unit. Despite initial skepticism from fans and the media, Hartenstein’s combined +/- of 36 in the first two games post-injury validated Thibs’ decision.
Following those two games, Jericho Sims then went down to injury and Thibs had no choice but to insert Ish into the starting lineup. During Ish’s first game as a starter, his +/- dropped significantly to -14. With the signing of Taj Gibson, questions linger about why Thibs hasn’t reverted to his initial plan of bringing Hart off the bench, considering Hartenstein’s combined +/- of -7 over the last three games. While Hartenstein is undoubtedly the superior player and a more formidable force, the argument is made that, given the presence of Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett, and Julius Randle as the core of the starting 5, Hart’s minutes would be better utilized leading the second unit alongside Immanuel Quickley.
This leads to the second point causing a stir in Knicks’ territory: Why did Thibs bench the red-hot Immanuel Quickley on Wednesday night down the stretch in favor of a struggling RJ Barrett? Although Thibodeau asserted that it was purely a matchup decision, stating, “Sometimes, it’s matchups. Sometimes, someone’s got it going. Sometimes, you need size; you’re looking at the switching you’re doing.”
Jalen Williams of the Thunder was on fire to start the fourth quarter, finishing with 17 points. Thibs attempted various matchups to slow him down, but the efforts were in vain. Thibodeau explained, “We have good players. It’s easy to sit there and say, ‘Well, this guy should have played more,’ and you can certainly make a case for people because when they’re playing well, that’s a natural question. But who you’re taking out? Because you can’t just keep adding without taking out.”
Immanuel Quickley, who concluded the game with 22 points in 24 minutes on 7-of-10 shooting, was compelled to cool off his hot shooting hand on the bench. Meanwhile, Barrett, who struggled with a 1-7 shooting performance from beyond the arc and 5-of-14 overall from the field, played 29 minutes, finishing with 14 points and a +/- of -9.
Entering the Kia Center tonight, the Knicks face a youthful and talented Magic team spearheaded by Franz Wagner, Jalen Suggs, and Paolo Banchero. Despite a strong start to the season, the Magic have encountered a recent slump, winning only four of their last 10 games, with a notable 112-92 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night. It’s worth noting that the 76ers were without their MVP, Joel Embiid.
In addition to the aforementioned trio, the Knicks must be mindful of the streaky performance of Cole Anthony. At times, Anthony exhibits superstar potential, while at other moments, he may go relatively unnoticed. Tonight’s matchup promises to be a test for both teams as they navigate the dynamics of their respective strengths and challenges.
G- Jalen Suggs
G- Anthony Black
F- Paolo Banchero
F- Franz Wagner
C- Wendell Carter Jr.
G- Jalen Brunson
G- Donte’ DiVincenzo
F- RJ Barrett
F- Julius Randle
C- Isaiah Hartenstein
Who: New York Knicks @ Orlando Magic
When: 7:00 pm EST, Monday, December 29th
Where: Kia Center, Orlando, FL.
Watch: MSG Network
Coming into tonight Julius Randle is on an impressive 15-game streak, consistently scoring at least 20 points. Despite a slow start to the season, Randle has found his rhythm, currently averaging 22.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Teaming up with the in-form Jalen Brunson, who boasts an average of 32.7 points per game over the Knicks’ last three outings, the stage is set for another scoring outburst by the Knicks against the struggling Magic. The combined offensive prowess of Randle and Brunson adds a potent dynamic to the team, presenting a formidable challenge for their opponents.
Prediction - Knicks 122, Magic 105