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Shorthanded Knicks Stagger Versus Magic in Listless Defeat

Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Without much effort, or offense, the Knicks lost their fourth consecutive game, this time against Hezonja and the Magic.

The New York Knicks (27–51) played host for the Orlando Magic (23–55) on Tuesday, falling the Floridian team 97–73 and losing the season series three games to one. The loss tied a season-low in points scored for the ‘Bockers.

Like New York, Orlando is on a (perpetual) downswing, too. The Magic have lost 50+ games for a second consecutive season and are bound to draft within the parameters of the lottery like the Knicks. Strangely, Orlando hasn’t been unfamiliar with moderate-to-successful lottery players; they’ve drafted Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, J.J. Redick, and Aaron Gordon over the years. However, like the Knicks, the Magic have found themselves on the short end of the development stick, failing to harness players’ potential while they remained on the roster (Courtney Lee, for example, was drafted 22nd overall in 2008 by Orlando, played as a rookie on the team that lost in the 2009 Finals, and was subsequently traded to New Jersey in the offseason).

Gordon and Mario Hezonja—the latter the infamous “pick after All-Star Kristaps Porzingis” in 2015—were on display at the Garden on Tuesday, though. Both players seem to be late bloomers in a league where finding one’s place often doesn’t come in the immediacy. Gordon, a near-doppelgänger for the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, punished New York’s lack of interior presence with athletic moves for near-basket floaters and layups. However, it was Hezonja who was dropping trey bombs from deep, five in total, for 19 points.

Similarly, the Knicks are in possession of one Trey Burke, who started on Tuesday, a former lottery pick building a case for long-term roster consideration with another strong performance. Obviously Burke had a tremendous 42-point, 12-assist game a week prior, but Trey, playing within himself, orchestrated the offense competently, deferred to his teammates, like Michigan buddy Tim Hardaway Jr., at times while giving himself isolation opportunities to smoothly sail past slow-footed matchups and create scoring chances for himself and the team. Burke would finish with 15 points and four assists. Hardaway Jr.—notably a former first-round selection by New York, only to later be traded and signed as a restricted free agent last summer—led the team in scoring on Tuesday with 16 points. Again, to reiterate, many of these first-round talents take awhile to discover who they are on the hardwood, and for Hardaway in particular, playing within himself, like Orlando’s Hezonja. Nonetheless, a lifeless offensive and dismal shooting snowballed in the third and fourth quarters, thus resulting in an “L” for the Knicks.


An update on New York’s G League Players

Despite Coach of the Year honors, for Westchester’s Mike Miller, the DubKnicks fell to Toronto’s G League affiliate, the Raptors 905, on Monday night. Many of the big league Knicks’ roster participated in the defeat, including two-way players Isaiah Hicks and Luke Kornet, and wing Damyean Dotson.

All three found minutes in Tuesday’s defeat versus the Magic. Although little is known about the collective three’s viability on the team in the future, the front office remains optimistic in its development process, mostly incubated via the White Plains G League power house DubKnicks (I kid). But when Craig Robinson, vice president of player development for the Knicks, was grilled about what that entails, he responded with “It means getting players better” (per Mike Vorkunov/The Athletic).

So while the Knicks “[get]…better,” that includes playing the trio of Kornet, Hicks, and Dotson to little fanfare (and some bad basketball all around, including the Magic’s contribution). Hicks was challenged for position on the boards, especially, on Tuesday, finding difficulty navigating with the more agile Gordon and a rim-running Hezonja. Kornet, whose three-point shooting boasts the potential to open lanes to the basket for his teammates, didn’t have the shooting touch, failing to connect on the pair of triple attempts. Dotson, with spotty minutes plaguing his rookie season, if you could call it that, went scoreless in 11 minutes of action.

As we patiently wait the return of Kristaps Porzingis, we’ll have to make do with the porridge/gruel meal of the G League players and Emmanuel Mudiay, both of whom are far less palatable than watching the talents of the Latvian.

Your Daily Hit of Frankie Nicotine

Frank Ntilikina showed some razzle-dazzle, a sneaky from-behind block and a Jason Williams–inspired show-and-go ball-fake layup:

Shot Blocker K.O.

Kyle O’Quinn was a man possessed, blocking a total of six shots, a career-high for the Queens native. The former Magic center-forward started while Enes Kanter, fearing the end of his season due to back sprains, was sidelined. Kyle amassed a double-double in place for Kanter in the loss.

O’Quinn could exercise his player option in the summer, with a market for a backup center taking shape, and surely a team could be willing to pay more than his current salary of approximately $4 million.

So, K.O.’s contract is another area where spectators must demonstrate patience, waiting to see if O’Quinn receives a higher salary from his hometown club, or jumps ship to another team willing to ante up on the physical backup center.

Miscellaneous notes
  • Frank started for the fifth time in his career (along with Thomas, Burke, Hardaway, and O’Quinn). He and Lance Thomas were the only starters tonight not to cross the double-digit scoring threshold. Again, Ntilikina did not find himself as a scorer—only dropping in two points on eight attempts—but his impact was felt on defense (always a challenge for opposing guards), and of course he displayed some neat passing, with three assists total.
  • The Magic tallied 28 assists while shooting 42 percent from the field and only 11-for-36 from three-point range. It was…not a fantastic game of basketball all around.
  • Jamel Artis, all things considered, had a tremendous game for the Magic. Artist notably played for the Knicks’ Summer League team—in Orlando, no less—and was a training camp invitee last September. While the Knicks panned on Artis, the former Pittsburgh Panther had himself a nice kinda-revenge game on Tuesday against his former NBA team, scoring 16 points and grabbing six boards.
  • A quick aside: the Magic wore their “City Edition” jerseys on Tuesday, which feature a blue-hued, spacey ombré color design, I guess you could describe it as such. They’re highly recommended on my end.

Next: The Knicks find themselves facing Goran Dragic and the Miami Heat at the Garden in three days, sadly, the final Friday Night Knicks of the season.

Check out the Knicks Film School breakdown from Tuesday’s Magic game, featuring Ntilikina highlights:

Managing Editor of The Knicks Wall. Still not over the ’94 Finals. Andy Bernard levels of Cornell love.

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