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Magic vs. Knicks preview: The first of two must-win games for Orlando

The Orlando Magic trail the Miami Heat by a half-game for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. They can’t afford a let down against New York

NBA: Orlando Magic at New York Knicks Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic appeared a lock to secure a playoff spot after winning six consecutive games. However, they’ve managed to lose two of their previous three games and now find themselves in uncertain ground trailing the Miami Heat by a half-game with but four to go. The Magic have the more favorable schedule with the Knicks, Hawks and now effectively eliminated Hornets on closing night, but they do have the Celtics remaining on the slate and a 2018-19 documented history of letdowns.

Enter the New York Knicks.

The Knicks managed the upset on February 26th in Madison Square Garden behind 75 bench points from Allonzo Trier, Emmanuel Mudiay, Mitchell Robinson, Henry Ellenson and John Jenkins compared to just six from the Magic.

However, since that time the Knicks have been the very worst team in the NBA with a net rating of -12.9. They carry the league’s-worst turnover percentage, and second-worst effective field goal percentage. They give the ball away and they don’t convert on opportunities given. They are also slow, with the 19th rated pace in that time.

The Knicks have been led by a batch of young recruits since the blockbuster trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas. Damyean Dotson has led the squad in scoring alongside with rookies Kevin Knox (13.3ppg) and Trier (13.2), but newly acquired Dennis Smith Jr. (12.3 points, three rebounds, four assists) and DeAndre Jordan (10 points, 11 boards, four assists) have had a big influence as well. When Jordan takes the floor, the Knicks’ plus minus plummets as he carries a -12.1 net rating, trailing only former Magic player, Mario Hezonja (-16.0).

Winning this matchup shouldn’t take much as the Knicks have managed to lose 12 of their previous 14 games earning victories over just the Hawks and Lakers.

The Magic simply cannot beat themselves as they did back in February. In addition to the bench points yielded, they gave the ball away an untenable 16 times, sent the Knicks to the foul line 32 times. Robinson was the wrecking ball with 17 points, 14 boards, six blocks and three steals becoming just the third rookie to post such numbers (Ralph Sampson, David Robinson). The Magic surrendered a 16-point second quarter lead, something they have done far too often this season.

The Magic lead the league with nine losses after leading by 15 points or more, per NBA.com. They’ve also made an ugly habit of playing down to their opponents, leading to some disheartening losses. In a playoff race that could be decided by a half-game, the Magic need to win these next two home games and hopefully secure a playoff spot to ensure that those losses don’t haunt them.