Denton: Magic Set For Clash With Knicks

By John Denton
March 27, 2012

NEW YORK – When the Orlando Magic last got a look at the New York Knicks back in January, ``Linsanity’’ had yet to be unleashed on the NBA, Mike D’Antoni was still a head coach and the home team had its usual inner turmoil in full effect.

Orlando won that holiday afternoon in Madison Square Garden largely because the Knicks failed to recognize Ryan Anderson as the NBA’s best 3-point threat and the Magic’s as the league’s best perimeter shooting team. The Magic hit a season-best 17 3-pointers that blustery January day in New York, getting a staggering seven threes from Amderson when the Knicks inexplicably left him alone time and again.

While much has changed with the Knicks in the past two months – Jeremy Lin is the starter at point guard and still a worldwide sensation, D’Antoni is out as head coach and New York has played some of its best basketball of late – the Magic are still very much the same squad that breaks the will of foes with their shooting.

The Magic hit New York fresh off a performance Monday night in Toronto where they hit 15 3-pointers in a 117-101 throttling of the Raptors. And Anderson’s latest performance – a career-best eight 3-pointers – was one better than his previous high of seven set three times during this breakout season for him.

The Magic (32-18) hope that hot shooting continues Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden when they face the Knicks in a nationally televised game. For the Magic, they have stressed repeatedly of late that it doesn’t matter so much who the opponent is as long as they play as they are capable. Orlando cut its turnovers to nine on Monday, shot 54 percent from the floor and burned the Raptors for giving its shooters room on the perimeter.

``Right now, we’re playing the right way,’’ said Magic point guard Jameer Nelson, boiling it down to the simplest of terms. ``We’re moving the ball and not just holding it over our heads and trying to force the ball.’’

The Knicks (25-25) have won seven of eight games since they dumped D’Antoni as head coach, playing dramatically better defensively and on the boards under new coach Mike Woodson. Despite losing Amare Stoudemire indefinitely to a back injury and playing without Lin because of a sore knee, New York beat Milwaukee 86-80 on Monday night. Lin will be a game-time decision on Wednesday against Orlando, while Stoudemire could miss the next several weeks.

The Magic’s inside-out attack worked brilliantly in the 102-93 defeat of the Knicks on Jan. 16. Despite the Knicks signing defensive ace Tyson Chandler in the offseason, New York decided to double-team Dwight Howard from start to finish in the game. The Knicks did limit Howard to nine points and 10 rebounds, but the trapping inside left them vulnerable from the outside. Anderson made seven 3-pointers, Hedo Turkoglu drilled four shots from the arc and J.J. Redick connected on another three threes. In all, six Magic players made 3-pointers against the Knicks’ questionable defense.

Wise from his eight years in the NBA, Howard knows that his ability to work in tandem with shooters like Anderson only makes life easier for him in the paint. If shooters are making 3-pointers, Howard will likely dominate inside with more room to operate. And if they double team, as the Knicks did in January and the Raptors did on Monday, Anderson will make them pay dearly.

``I’m happy for Ryan,’’ Howard said. ``I just want him to continue to do all of the things he has been doing. We all love the way he has been playing and he just has to keep it up. We are going to need that same effort and energy from him every night.

``We know he can do it, so that’s why myself and Jameer stay on him to be consistent,’’ Howard continued. ``For the most part he’s been trying to do that. To see him shoot eight of 13 (from 3-point range on Monday), that’s amazing.’’

Anderson, a leading candidate to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, knows that much of his success is dependent on others. When Howard is dominant inside, he usually gets open shots. When Nelson is getting into the lane, the defense collapses and Anderson is alone at the 3-point line. Ever humble, Anderson is quick to deflect the credit to others.

And for the first time in his career, Anderson is a full-time starter with definitive role on the Magic. Remarkably, he continues to get open shots even though he’s the NBA leader in 3-pointers made (143) and 3-pointers attempted (344).

When the Magic and Knicks played two months ago, New York botched the coverage on Anderson. He has the reputation around the league as the NBA’s top shooting power forward now, and he doesn’t take the opportunities he’s gotten this season lightly.

``God has really given me a great opportunity to play consistently. It has opened up a lot of opportunities for me,’’ Anderson said. ``Instead of coming off the bench or not playing I have had a consistent role and that’s helped. That Most Improved stuff in way in the back of my mind and I just want to continue to improve. We have to continue playing the way we’re playing because it’s fun basketball. We have to get ready for the playoffs.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com

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