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Magic vs. Knicks preview: Magic return home to face better-than-expected Knicks

The shorthanded Magic face a tough challenge against a stingy Knicks defense

NBA: Orlando Magic at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Magic finally return home, where they hope to have a few more healthy bodies.

After a four-game West Coast trip played almost entirely with eight available players, Orlando hosts the Knicks, kicking off a stretch where the Magic have seven of eight games at home to close out the first half of the season.

Having had a full two days off, a rarity this season, the non-tanking hope is that some of the Magic’s questionable players — including Evan Fournier, Al-Farouq Aminu and James Ennis — will be able to return sometime soon. Fournier and Aminu were full participants in Tuesday’s non-contact practice.

Tuesday wasn’t a great day for Magic point guard injury updates, with the news that Cole Anthony will be out through the All-Star break. But for the first time since Anthony exited in Portland, the Magic will have the luxury of a backup point guard! Backing up Michael Carter-Williams will be new additional Chasson Randle, meaning Terrence Ross and Dwayne Bacon can be relieved of their ballhandling responsibilities.

While the Magic introduce one Randle, they’re going to have their hands full with another. Julius Randle is having an All-Star caliber year for the better-than-expected Knicks. And with the Magic being without pretty much all of their frontcourt stoppers, he is going to be a matchup nightmare. The 6-foot-8 power forward is coming off a season-high 44-point performance in the Knicks win over the Hawks on Monday, during which he drained a career-high 7 three-pointers. On the season, Randle is posting Nikola Vucevic-like numbers, averaging 23.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game, while shooting 47.6% from the field and 40.6% on 4.4 attempts per from three.

Randle very well may get an All-Star nod over Vucevic (though perhaps both will make it if enough players opt out of playing), and he very well may help the Knicks steal a playoff spot from the Magic, who last season claimed the eighth and final seed in the East. The 14-15 Knicks, on a three-game winning streak, currently sit sixth in the East, and along with the currently eighth-seeded Charlotte Hornets, have bumped two Floridian teams (Orlando, Miami) from last season’s postseason field of teams.

Last season at the 30-game mark the Knicks were 7-23. They’ve had an impressive turnaround behind Randle’s career year and new coach Tom Thibodeau, who has turned around New York’s defense. The Knicks have the league’s third best defensive rating at 107.6 points per 100 possessions, this after finishing 23rd last season at 112.4.

The Knicks allow the fewest points per game at 103.6 per, the lowest opponent field goal percentage at 43%, and the third fewest points in the paint at 42.4 per, and the lowest opponent three-point shooting percentage at 31.5%, despite allowing the fifth most attempts per game at 37.6 — which, of course, could always lead to a low percentage that is a combination of the luck of missed shots and the design of strong closeouts and rotations.

Thib’s sqauds have a tendency of sacrificing the occasional open three if it means sealing off the paint, although their interior defense took a big hit with the loss of their anchor Mitchell Robinson, who is out after fracturing his hand. He has been replaced in the starting unit by a fellow rim protector in Nerlens Noel, who like Robinson is also in the top-10 in blocks per game.

Overall, the Knicks’ defense is defined more by effort than advanced stat with their brand of physical, swarming on-the-ball defense.

Old friend Elfrid Payton remains a starter for the Knicks thanks in part to his pesky perimeter defense...

He has managed to hold on to the starting point guard gig to lead the league’s slowest-paced offense despite the play of rookie Immaunel Quickley, the 25th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, who is averaging 12.5 points and 2.7 assists in 19.3 minutes per game, while shooting 37.9% from deep on 4.6 attempts per and seemingly shooting 100% on his patented running floaters...

The Knicks point guard depth and veteran presence was recently bolstered with the addition of Derrick Rose, who in four games with the Knicks has averaged 13.0 points and 3.8 assists in 21.5 minutes per game while shooting 50% from the field. Frank Ntilikina is also expected to rejoin the Knicks after being out due to health and safety protocols.

With the Magic decimated by injuries, facing one of the league’s top defenses certainly won’t help matters.

Vucevic will face a steady stream of double and triple teams from a Knicks defense that will likely suffer little to no consequence from leaking far off Vooch’s teammates, and he’ll likely have to do much of his damage from the outside. The Magic offense, which has been held under 100 points in three of their last five games, has dropped to third worst in the league in offensive rating at 105.3 per and is dead last in true shooting at 52.6%.

Who: Orlando Magic (10-18) vs. New York Knicks (14-15)

When: Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Where: Amway Center - Orlando, Florida

TV: Fox Sports Florida