The Knicks kick off April with a showdown against the Orlando Magic.
We may have to throw any tanking dreams out the window after tonight. The Knicks are just 2.5 games back of Sacramento for the sixth-worst record, but tonight they face a professional tanker. Tanking has become an art for the Orlando Magic. This season will make it their sixth straight lottery appearance. That’s ineptitude you cannot teach. They also come into tonight with losses to the Chicago Bulls (shamelessly tanking) and Atlanta Hawks (blatantly tanking).
The Knicks are playing better basketball than every team just mentioned above, save for perhaps the Bulls, winners of two straight. They are absolutely better than the Magic. Despite also coming in losers of their past three, the Knicks look like a better team. Trey Burke has been cooking, Tim Hardaway Jr. has found himself, and Frank is growing. I know Hov said moral victories are for minor league coaches, but that’s gotta mean something right?
Anyway, tonight could be the team’s final victory of the season. After this, the Knicks play the Heat, Bucks, and Cavs twice to cap off the season. How will they put away a hapless Magic team? Let’s break it down.
Frankie Ntillmatic is listed as probable for tonight after missing Saturday, as is Courtney Lee.
The Walking Bucket is questionable with an illness while Enes Kanter is doubtful with that bad back.
Since being promoted to starting point guard, Trey Burke has averaged 24.3 points, 9.0 assists, and shot 52.6 percent from the field, including 33.3 percent from three. Even if you take out his monster 42-piece against the Hornets, he’s still averaging around 18 per game. Beyond the numbers, it simply looks like he belongs.
He has looked like a new Trey Burke since joining the Knicks—and growing cornrows. This doesn’t look like a fluke either. Everything he is doing out there, and he is doing everything out there at the moment…
Trey Burke is the second Knick since 2000 to record at least 18 points, 15 assists, and 5 rebounds in a game.
Nate Robinson is the other (33 points, 15 assists, 9 rebounds on 2/9/09).
— Matt Spendley (@mattspendley) March 31, 2018
…is nothing special. He is simply executing on the little things consistently. He’s keeping his dribble. He’s reading the floor and controlling the flow. He’s feeding his teammates the ball at the right spot. He’s actually attempting to play defense.
An evolution to his game has earned him a shot to start at point guard next season. Tonight, he gets another crack at padding his resume in a favorable matchup.
Until Next Time
Speaking of developmental pieces that are panning out, let’s talk about Troy Williams. He will miss the remaining five games of the season with a broken jaw. The good news for both Williams and the Knicks is that he was able to showcase himself enough to stick around next year.
For the season, he will finish with 7.5 points on 49 percent shooting (33.3 percent from three), 3.5 rebounds, and 1.1 steals. His bread and butter on this team will be in transition. Right now, he is the best athlete on the team. If used properly, he could be a great energy guy off the bench in what will be another rebuilding year in New York.
Is there really such thing as tastefully tanking? For example, I believe the Knicks are not deliberately attempting to lose games. They are, however, not upset about putting a less than stellar product out for the time being, while not pulling healthy players. They are still putting on watchable games despite having no reason to compete. There has got to be some good karma in that, right?
I don’t know. Personally, I do believe karma exists. And if I’m right, the way that the Knicks have played the post-Porzingis end of the season is something to take solace in. Of course there have been some stinkers. But there has also been the progress of THJ and Frank, and the arrival of new talent from Westchester. In the end, the games won during the final portion of the season could cost them a precious pong ball. So what? Isn’t development of young players what everyone always wanted? We got our wish, and that definitely counts for something.
Matchup of the Night: Trey Burke vs. D.J. Augustin
There are not many times Trey Burke can look his opponent dead in the eyes. Tonight, he gets that opportunity. D.J. Augustin might offer some competition in the way of scoring, but Trey Burke can go shot for shot. The way Burke is playing right now? It may be a T.K.O. if they decided to get in a backyard style iso matchup.
While that may make for some quality entertainment, Trey has to think bigger. Instead of trying to have the wild Kobe night, how about strengthening his claim as a permanent starter? When you think of the optimal point guard, or at least when I think of one, I think of a maestro that must always keep his cool and conduct the orchestra. He has to be the steady force if the team is going to function properly.
If it came down to isoball, Trey is probably killing him. That will always be there. The chance to showcase his fully renovated repertoire? Now that’s something that could fade away.
Tip at 7:30 p.m. from Madison Square Garden.