Strong defense and solid play from several contributors like Reggie Bullock prevented a Knicks collapse to the Magic at home, snapping a two-game losing streak.

The New York Knicks (21-21) defeated the Orlando Magic (13-27) by a final score of 94-93. Julius Randle finished with a triple-double—18 points, 10 rebounds, and 17 assists—while Reggie Bullock added 20 points and six made threes for the Knicks. For Orlando, Nikola Vucevic had 17 points, 16 rebounds, and four assists. Aaron Gordon contributed 17 points, five rebounds, and seven assists.

This was a battle of banged-up teams; Orlando has been battling injuries all throughout the season, as evidenced by former Knick Chasson Randle starting at point guard. As for the Knicks, the second half of the season injury woes continued as Derrick Rose and Elfrid Payton remained out and Immanuel Quickley joined them on the sideline with a sore ankle. 

The late injury to Quickley meant Frank Ntilikina would start at the point once again, but head coach Tom Thibodeau made one change—swapping Reggie Bullock for Alec Burks in the starting lineup. 

With Ntilikina as the lead guard, the Knicks had the likes of Barrett, Burks, and Randle handling the creation to various results. While Burks and Barrett used more ball-handling responsibilities to create their own offense, Randle switched into point guard mode, finding teammates to create good looks. Still, the prevailing theme of this game was Orlando, regardless of the score, not quite tapping out all evening.

It started in the first quarter, with New York going up double digits. Then, just as it seemed New York would pull away early, the Magic jumped right back in. Al Farouq-Aminu knocked down a few baskets, while Evan Fournier began to apply pressure to New York’s defense with some aggressive attacks to the basket. Vucevic used his inside-outside game to further press New York’s defense and what New York was quickly back in a dogfight. 

Offensively, the Knicks began to find themselves a bit. Barrett began to find easy looks at the basket, while Burks slashed and exposed Orlando in the midrange. Coming off the bench, Bullock looked great with his three-point shooting. While the decision to play Burks over Bullock was made to help insulate some movement in the first unit offense, Bullock did more than hold his own in the second unit with, quietly, his fourth straight good game in a row. 

But the Magic continued to fight. It started with a brief flurry to end the third—12-2 run in the final two minutes, to turn a New York double-digit lead into just a six-point deficit. Then, the Magic scored nine points to start the fourth, giving them a 75-74 lead. Gordon was a catalyst here, finding easy looks in transition for Orlando and putting New York back on their heels. 

The fourth quarter went back and forth, with both teams trading baskets. New York completed several big buckets from a struggling Randle, four points on two extremely tough baskets, to put the Knicks up five. Fournier kept Orlando in the game, scoring 13 of his 23 points in the fourth, but a wonky final possession and elite defense from Bullock allowed the Knicks to close out the game and stop the losing streak. 

Big baskets by Burks, Ntilikina, and Bullock in the fourth quarter were instrumental on an off-night by Randle. The losing streak is snapped, let’s hope everyone gets healthy, and let’s go to the game notes. 

Game Notes 

  • Orlando falling into the lotto is a good thing for their long-term outlook. I believe they move players like Fournier and Gordon in the near future; moving into the offseason with Vucevic, Jonathan Issac, Markelle Fultz, Chuma Okeke, and a shot to get Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham? Things could be looking up in Orlando. 
  • We almost never do this, but hey, it’s trade deadline SZN; the Knicks should inquire about Evan Fournier. The price will be a bit high (wing players rule the league), but the combination of shooting and creation would help the Knicks a ton. Also a bit younger than you think. As an unrestricted free agent, Fournier should be an attractive free agent for a Knicks team looking to improve their backcourt. 
  • Reggie Bullock was excellent. The shooting off the bench (6-of-13 from three) was key as his fellow bench brethren combined for three points. The defense was a bit questionable outside of that last possession, but Bullock was key in maintaining the scoring as the starters received a breather. 

  • Julius Randle had another triple-double. Ho-hum. What I found impressive is his ability to switch off the shooting and go for the creation and finding teammates now—something that just wasn’t there last season. As Randle struggled early to shoot—finished with 8-of-20 shooting—he went into his point guard mode and finished with 17 assists, finding everyone for every shot on the floor. 
  • Frank Ntilikina, I just can’t quit you. Frankie should never play the point guard spot period. 12 of his 13 points in the second half, a couple of clutch threes as the game swung in the balance, and, again, good defense at the point of attack. A good second half by Frank. 
  • R.J. Barrett and Alec Burks were both strong; Barrett found some good looks offensively and impacted the glass with nine rebounds. Burks used his previous experience as a point guard to make nice looks when attacking the basket. Burks is a fun player because when he’s on, you see all the traits of a good scoring guard. Tonight, he was effective for New York. 

The Knicks remain home to host the Philadelphia 76ers (28-13) on Sunday, March 21st. Tip-off for the second battle in three games for the two teams is set for 8 p.m. ET.

 

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