There is only one thing standing between the Magic and the eighth spot in the East: the 12-48 New York Knicks.
With a victory over the league’s second worst team on Tuesday, the Magic will move into a tie with the Charlotte Hornets for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. If the Magic, who enter Tuesday’s game in New York at 28-33, manage to defeat the Knicks, they would actually be slightly ahead of the Hornets percentage-wise, but will have played two more games than Charlotte. The Hornets also lead the season series 2-1, with the two teams scheduled to meet in the final game of the season.
Playoff tiebreakers aside, the Magic must first take care of business on the court against the Knicks. Orlando has shown in recent days that, during an NBA playoff push, the outcome of games aren’t so easy to predict. After losing a one-point game to the Bulls, owners of the fourth worst record in the league, the Magic defeated the Raptors, the league’s second best team, though they were without Kawhi Leonard.
They now face the Knicks and there is no need for a deep analysis. The Magic should, and better, win easily.
That wasn’t the case for the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, though. The Knicks, led by the members of their young core, beat the Spurs, 130-118, to snap an 18-game home losing streak. With the win, the Knicks avoided matching the longest home losing streak in NBA history, which was set by the Dallas Mavericks during the 1993-1994 season.
New York, led by the recently acquired Dennis Smith Jr., have now won two of their last three games overall since enduring an 18-game losing streak. The Knicks will be looking to win back-to-back games for just the second this season (won three straight in November).
Smith, who pre-Markelle Fultz was long the object of Magic fans’ desire, has averaged 16.1 points and 6.9 assists in nine games since being acquired from Dallas in a trade package centered around Kristaps Porzingis. His percentages, always a concern, have not been great, with Smith shooting 43.7 percent from the field, and just 27.6 percent from three.
Starting in the backcourt alongside Smith is long-range threat Damyean Dotson, who is coming off a 27-point performance against the Spurs during which he hit eight three-pointers. The Knicks rookie duo of Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson (who got extra minutes in the absence of the injured DeAndre Jordan) each recorded double-doubles against the Spurs, as the Knicks shot 51 percent from the field and set a season-high for points scored in regulation.
Our old friend Mario Hezonja, averaging 7.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in 19.1 minutes per game, seems to have fallen out of the Knicks rotation of late, recording DNPs in each of their last three games. But at least they sang him Happy Birthday...
The Knicks, as expected of a team in all-out “Tryin for Zion” tank mode, enter with the league’s fourth worst offensive rating at 104.7 points per 100 possessions and the fourth worst defensive rating at 112.7 per. They are also dead last in both effective field goal percentage (48.7 percent) and true shooting (52.7 percent).
The Magic have won five of their last six against the Knicks, who are 5-24 at home this season. Orlando won their last four match-ups at Madison Square Garden, including a 115-89 rout in November for the Magic’s largest margin of victory over the Knicks in franchise history.
Orlando, owners of the league’s best Net Rating (14.4) in the month of February, has won six of their last seven games, and eight of their last 10.
Since Jan. 1, the Magic have ranked second in the NBA in defensive efficiency (106.1 points allowed per 100 possessions), fourth in defensive rebounding percentage and 17th in offensive efficiency (110.0 points scored per 100 possessions).— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) February 25, 2019
The Magic sit within a half game of the Hornets for the eighth spot, and within two games of the seventh-seeded Pistons, both of whom are idle on Tuesday.