In the midst of a tight playoff race, the Knicks are looking to pick up a huge win on the road against the Magic.
Needing every single win they can get with the season coming to a close, the New York Knicks (42-32) travel to the Amway Center to take on the Orlando Magic (30-43).
Falling to the Miami Heat just a night prior, the Knicks will once again be battle tested as they fight to hold their position within the confines of the Eastern Conference. Even against a lowly Magic team that is now primed for the lottery, New York must stay focused and disciplined to get the job done on the road. In their last two matchups against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Miami, the Knicks’ perimeter defense has struggled, giving their opponents countless quality looks from distance.
Orlando may rank towards the bottom of the league in three-point percentage (23rd, to be exact), but it shouldn’t be an excuse for another poor effort out there. In their last two games, the Knicks have allowed their opponents to shoot 57.7% from downtown, a horrendous number despite a two-game sample size. At the end of the day, it’s a team effort and everyone must give it their all on the second night of a back-to-back in order to take care of business.
As far as the injury report goes, Mitchell Robinson (right knee contusion) is listed as questionable to play. For the Magic, Jonathan Isaac (left adductor) and Jalen Suggs (concussion) are listed as out for tonight’s matchup. At full strength, New York can’t afford to have another slip-up against one of the league’s worst teams. Otherwise, they’ll pay for it as the Brooklyn Nets will do everything they can to take hold of the fifth seed.
Currently, the Knicks hold the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. While the goal may be to take hold of the fourth seed from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Cavs have the easiest schedule remaining out of every team in the league, so leapfrogging them seems unlikely. With every game that goes by, it becomes more and more likely that the Knicks will face off against Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.
Time to let Deuce loose once again?
After Tom Thibodeau made changes to the Knicks rotation back in early December, Miles “Deuce” McBride found himself contributing in a big way for the Knicks off the bench. But following the acquisition of Josh Hart, McBride has fallen out of the rotation. He’s seen minutes in recent games given the absence of Jalen Brunson but as soon as he returned, Deuce went back to riding the pine. Not only is this unfair to McBride, but it’s unfair to the entire team because Thibodeau is holding back one of the best defenders on the team.
It’s understandable that Thibs cannot get everyone minutes but McBride deserves them. Considering the recent woes defending the perimeter, Thibs must come to his senses and plug McBride into the rotation going forward. Not only does this give Brunson some needed rest with the playoffs looming, but it also should help stall opposing teams on defense, including the Orlando Magic tonight. In fact, McBride’s game has started to come together in recent weeks, as we’ve seen him step up and hit some big shots.
Matchup to Watch: RJ Barrett versus Franz Wagner
Over the last few games, we’ve seen RJ Barrett change up his shot selection, which has resulted in fewer three-point attempts and more methodical drives to the basket. Playing an interior-centric game, RJ is tailoring himself more to his strengths, using his physicality and his crafty dribble to find open seams within opposing defenses. Over the last 5 games, Barrett is averaging 22.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.4 assists on an improved 54.1% from the field during this stretch. His play will be needed once more, as Barrett will face off against another quality young forward in Franz Wagner.
The Magic may still be in rebuilding mode, but they’ve shown promise this season. In their last 50 games, Orlando has amassed a 25-25 record, showing that they can get wins with the core they’ve established in the near future, and Franz Wagner is a huge part of their team. Averaging 18.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, Wagner is top-3 among his sophomore class in scoring on solid shooting numbers (48.8% from the field, 36.3% from three).
While Paolo Banchero remains to be the heart and soul of the Magic, Wagner’s role is just as important and it’ll be up to RJ to disrupt that any chance he can. If Barrett can have a solid and efficient game on both ends of the floor, then the Knicks should be in the clear.
Tip-off is at 7:00 P.M. EST on NBA TV, MSG Network, and MSGGo.