On the second night of a back-to-back, the New York Knicks are still in Florida, this time to face the Orlando Magic. The Knicks find themselves in what has become a much too familiar situation, one in which the team has a pseudo-must-win game following a loss that many would describe as disappointing and frustrating. For much of the last few weeks, the Knicks, who have been floundering since their immaculate nine-game winning streak, have been an inconsistent shell of who they were at their peak.
In some games, like the ones against the Nuggets, Lakers, and Trail Blazers, New York looks like a team capable of a potential playoff run—an up-and-coming team with an All-Star that can’t be stopped in Julius Randle, a very good second option in Jalen Brunson, and a deep supporting cast lead by RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and Josh Hart. But then other games, like the ones against the Timberwolves and Heat, they look like a team with exploitable holes on offense and a defense that struggles to hold its own even against subpar offenses.
And to be honest, while it’s somewhat concerning and frustrating, that’s a pretty accurate indicator of who this Knicks team is right now. At their best, they can beat anyone on any given night. We’ve seen them hand losses to some of the best teams in the league, teams like the Nuggets, Celtics, Sixers, and Cavaliers. We’ve also seen them fall to teams like the Hornets without LaMelo Ball and the Trail Blazers without Damian Lillard. That isn’t to say that this team can’t get back to playing the way they did during their winning streak, but they’ll have to improve on both sides of the ball to do so.
While a game against a 30-43 Orlando Magic team seems like a great place to start, they cannot and must not be overlooked. With great play from their young core consisting of Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Markelle Fultz, and Wendell Carter Jr., they are capable of giving any team a run for their money. So the Knicks, who recently lost to an even worse Hornets, must come out with some urgency to make sure that they do not let the Nets or Heat creep up on them and their two-game lead in the standings.
Orlando is 26th in the league in offensive rating but Miami was 25th and they just put up 127 points against the Knicks’ putrid defense so they may still find a way to put up a lot of points. And because of that, the hope is that the Knicks, who are fifth in offensive rating, can take advantage of the Magic’s 19th-ranked defensive rating. I’m expecting (also just trying to speak into existence) that Thibodeau can get his players ready to come out of the gates both focused and aggressive in an attempt to get out to an early lead. I also expect Randle and Brunson to both have good games in what is subtly a very crucial game for the Knicks because of playoff-seeding implications. I have the Magic keeping it close for the first two quarters, but the Knicks ultimately pulling away convincingly in the second half to win it 120-110.
Tip off’s at 7:00 p.m. EST.