Following a statement victory over the streaking 76ers, the Knicks (29-26) head to Orlando to face Paolo Banchero and a young Magic squad (22-32). 

After a rough start to the season, the Magic have finally seen things click amongst their young core, going 17-13 in their last 30 games. While it’s unlikely that Orlando qualifies for the play-in tournament, let alone the playoffs, they’ve shown significant improvement over the course of the season and New York must be ready for it. In rookie Paolo Banchero, the Magic have finally got their franchise cornerstone, who’s already averaging 20.3 points per game in just his first year in the league. His craftiness and strength are a force to be reckoned with, and the Knicks cannot take it lightly.

 

The Orlando Magic will be without Mo Bamba (suspension) and Chuma Okeke (knee) for tonight’s game. Seeing that they barely crack the rotation, Orlando will fare just fine as they still have their top-10 guys available to play. Outside of Mitchell Robinson (thumb), the Knicks listed RJ Barrett (non-Covid illness) as questionable for this outing. With the possibility that Barrett misses his second straight game, Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, and the Knicks bench must step up in a big way in order to take care of business.

Playing defense without fouling

Although the Magic have been playing solid basketball as of late, they still continue to struggle shooting the ball on offense, which has led to a number of different issues that will work themselves out over time, given how young the team is. However, one thing that they thrive on is getting to the line. No matter how it gets done, the Magic have been solid all season long at getting to the charity stripe, taking it into the teeth of the defense, and getting hacked. Ranking fifth in free throw attempts per game and third in made free throws per game, the Magic will make New York pay if they have the chance to shoot two from the line. With a squad as young as Orlando’s, their use of athleticism makes it difficult for the referees not to call a foul. It’ll be a point of emphasis for the Knicks to play within control today to limit as many Orlando opportunities as possible.

Tonight’s matchup will be perfect for the Knicks to work on contesting shots in control and without fouling. Ranking 20th in personal fouls per game, New York must do a better job moving their feet and playing less with their hands less to avoid fouling. A large part of their low rank when it comes to personal fouls per game is their lack of execution when it comes to finishing possessions, something that the Knicks have struggled with all year long. Whether is a mistimed jump, a miscommunication, or simply an error as a result of ball-watching, New York’s lack of preparedness has them fouling opponents when trying to secure the rebound. This has given the Knicks even more problems, as second-chance opportunities have also been their kryptonite. If they want to build off their victory against the 76ers, a defensive mindset that emphasizes the need to get the rebound off the first missed shot will be key for the Knicks to get a victory on the road.

More than just a one-night stand?

In the Knicks win over the 76ers on Sunday evening, RJ Barrett missed the game with his non-Covid illness, which opened up some minutes in the rotation. Miles McBride got a minutes boost, logging 24 minutes on his way to 14 points, three rebounds, and two assists, stepping up in a huge way in Barrett’s absence. However, it was Evan Fournier who made his mark on the game. In and out of the rotation all season barring injuries, it hasn’t gone the way he would’ve anticipated his tenure in New York to go. Nonetheless, he has stayed ready up until this point and has been a true professional despite losing his starting spot and his spot in the rotation. When his name was called against Philly, he was ready. Fournier put on a clinic from behind the arc, scoring 17 points off the bench on 5-of-8 shooting from downtown in the win. The performance of both McBride and Fournier off the bench were extremely crucial to knocking off one of the hottest teams in the league to date. In fact, Thibodeau made the executive decision down the stretch to keep the two in late in the game, playing solid defense and coming up big on offense.

When asked if this game would give him more chances in the rotation from Thibodeau, Fournier replied “No I don’t think so, he’s set on his nine-man rotation. You know, it was like a one-night stand. Throughout the course of the season, sometimes there’s an injury. I’m sure I’ll have another chance to play, but I don’t think this is going to change anything.” With RJ Barrett questionable for tonight’s game, it could be more than just a one-night stand with the potential opportunity of getting minutes against his former team. It’s intriguing to see Fournier back in the rotation, especially with the trade deadline closing in and his name swirling in rumors. Could this be a showcase for Fournier to get shipped off? Only time will tell, and Barrett’s injury status will be an indication of that.

Matchup to Watch: Julius Randle versus Paolo Banchero

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Both players have been playing phenomenal basketball this season. In fact, there are some similarities in Randle’s and Banchero’s game. From the way they work in isolation to their physicality attacking the basket, this will be a very fun matchup to watch between the two. If the Knicks want to win in convincing fashion, they’ll need Randle to give it his all in this matchup on both ends of the floor, and having a solid opening quarter will only set the tone going forward. Whether it’s creating his shot or finding teammates across the court, his ability to facilitate the offense and make reads from the post will continue to create great looks for the Knicks. Combined with his ability to draw fouls at will against an inexperienced defense, Randle has the potential to have a field day against Orlando.

It’s not often that a first-year player has this great of a rookie campaign, but Paolo Banchero is making history this season. While his production has dipped as he heads into a wall midway through the season, he’s still found other ways to impact the game and help the Magic win. Specifically, Banchero has been a force at getting to the line, attempting 7.8 free throws per game. His size and physicality as an offensive threat have helped Orlando pull out some big wins this season and will look to do the same tonight. The Knicks must be smart with how they handle Banchero as he can create havoc on a Knicks defense that has only become more lackluster as the season has gone on. Factoring in the absence of Mitchell Robinson, Banchero has the ability to get to the rim at will and Randle will need to step up to prevent him from doing so. Either way, tonight’s matchup will be a fun game for both the rookie and the veteran.

Tip-off is 7 pm Eastern Time.

Related Content:

»Read: Diving Into Media Coverage of The Knicks

»Read: Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle Should Both Be All-Stars

»Read: The Knicks’ Trade Deadline Primer