Cohen: A Noteworthy Comparison

By Josh Cohen
April 26, 2012

ORLANDO -- I have some really exciting and encouraging news.

No, Dwight Howard hasn’t recovered from his back surgery that rapidly and no, there will be no Superman reenactment of Willis Reed’s gallant march out of the tunnel during the 1970 NBA Finals.

Rather, there is a different slice of NBA history that should really enliven and motivate you.

And fittingly, in this portion of the past, it does relate to the New York Knicks and a current member of the Orlando Magic organization.

It was 1999 – the last time there was a lockout-compressed NBA season – and the Knicks, like the Magic this year, had championship aspirations.

New York featured a promising core that included Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and Latrell Sprewell, who the Knicks acquired during training camp after the lockout ended.

But a combination of crooked chemistry and infuriating injuries, particularly to the franchise’s prized hero, Ewing, resulted in an extremely rocky regular season.

There were some uncanny defeats, including one against the worst team in the league that year, the Bulls, in which the Knicks scored an abysmal 63 points.

There were frequent troubling losing streaks, including one four-game skid and two three-game slides.

And, of course, there were all the indefinites. After recovering from an unsightly wrist injury the season prior, Ewing, now an assistant coach with the Magic, was crestfallen as a result of Achilles tendon problems.

Bravery and determination allowed one of the all-time great centers to play in 38 of the 50 regular season games and the first 11 playoff games, but eventually Ewing had to be shut down.

It was undecided whether Houston and Sprewell could co-exist.

It was vague whether Ewing’s front line cohorts, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, would be able to fill the void of an often absent and depleted Ewing.

It was uncertain if Jeff Van Gundy, the head coach in New York during that era and brother of current Orlando head coach Stan Van Gundy, would be able to gather the troops and figure out what it would take to get the engine running.

But the courageous Knicks never succumb to the pressure and impediments. New York kept battling and in spite of barely sneaking into the playoffs and being the No. 8 seed ultimately advanced all the way to the NBA Finals.

Listen, it would be miraculous if this season’s Magic without their dominant force inside replicated what the Knicks accomplished in 1999. It would defy all logic and pragmatism.

But the similarities are glaringly conspicuous.

The ’99 Knicks had the devastating injury to their franchise player. The ’12 Magic are contending with the same issue.

The ’99 Knicks relied on a balanced attack from up-and-comers like Camby and Houston to conquer the favorites. The ’12 Magic are experimenting with the same concept with guys like Glen Davis, Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick.

The ’99 Knicks were dealt several unanticipated abominations. The ’12 Magic have had some as well, including the Boston Massacre and Boston Collapse in Jaunary and a few baffling defeats to grievous opponents like the Hornets and Bobcats.

The '99 Knicks played the Heat, Hawks and Pacers before reaching the NBA Finals and playing the Spurs. The '12 Magic know they are playing the Pacers, would likely play the Heat in the conference semis if they advance and the Hawks are on the opposite side of the bracket and could be a conference final opponent if they pull off their own miracle. And to really drive the comparison home, in '99 the Spurs were the No. 1 seed in the West. This year, they are the same.

For what it’s worth, in ’99 there was a lockout-shortened season and in ’12 there was the same.

The ’99 Knicks had a Van Gundy calling the shots, the ’12 Magic have one as well.

It’s laughable, really. The ’99 Knicks and ’12 Magic have too many commonalities.

Therefore, you can’t help but wonder. Are the ’99 Knicks and ’12 Magic like long-lost twins waiting to be compared to each other for the next few decades?

We will soon find out.

Do you think the Magic are capable of having a storybook playoff run like the 1999 Knicks had?

Do you think the Magic are capable of having a storybook playoff run like the 1999 Knicks had?

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