Orlando Magic at New York Knicks: Game Preview

Mo Bamba
by Dan Savage

NEW YORK – There’s a reason that a large blue bell hangs in the corner of the Orlando Magic’s practice court. It’s to sound off and bring attention to hustle plays that are made during scrimmages and drills.

In turn, that’s expected to help reinforce the significance of energy and sacrifice for a young team attempting to build a culture with those elements as their foundation.

Through two games, the Magic have made some of those plays, but not on a consistent enough basis. Nor have they met the standard of playing with pace, space and the pass set in place by head coach Jamahl Mosley.

The Magic (0-2) will get another opportunity to bring all of those elements to the table when they get a rematch with the New York Knicks (2-0) on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Orlando will be out for revenge against a New York team that spoiled its home opener. The Knicks gave the Magic’s defense fits by knocking down a franchise-record 24 triples on their way to a 121-96 victory.

“They space the floor so well and we talked about the guys that they have out there that are individually very talented,” Mosley explained. “(On Friday, the Knicks) were making that extra pass and knocking shots down. (We’re) going to go back and look at the film and see exactly where we are and the details of how we can get better.”

Despite the defeat, the Magic are seeing encouraging signs of growth from their two rookies. Jalen Suggs, the fifth overall selection, stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals, despite struggling from the floor and connecting on just four of his 17 shot attempts. Franz Wagner, the eighth overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, went 4-for-5 from distance on his way 16 points.

“We’ve constantly talked about Franz being a kid with a high basketball IQ, a relentless worker, and a guy that just wants to do the right thing and make the right plays,” Mosley said. “He finds himself in the right position a lot of times offensively and defensively. I think he’s made a ton of progress through the preseason and now into the regular season. He’s going to continue to grow and continue to work and get better.”

After getting the first true offseason of his career where he didn’t have to deal with illness or injury, center Mo Bamba is starting to more closely resemble the player the Magic envisioned when they used their sixth overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on the University of Texas alum.

Following a preseason where he led the league in blocks at 3.8 rejections per game, Bamba is averaging 3.0 blocks per contest during the regular season, which ranks fourth best in the association. Along with leading the Magic in rejections, he’s also posting team-bests in points (16.5) and 3-pointers made per game (3.0) as well as leading Orlando in field goal percentage (70.6) and 3-point percentage (66.7).

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Tendencies. Picking up on their tendencies and knowing what those guys want to get into offensively and being physical are going to be the two biggest things defensively. Offensively, I think we need to move the ball and play a lot less isolation ball and just trust one another.” – Bamba on the keys to their Sunday night showdown with the Knicks.

IN AND OUT: Gary Harris (right hamstring; injury maintenance) is questionable, while Michael Carter-Williams (left ankle), Markelle Fultz (left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee), E’Twaun Moore (left knee sprain) and Chuma Okeke (right hip; bone bruise) all remain out.

For New York, Taj Gibson (personal reasons) is available, Nerlens Noel (sore left knee) is doubtful, and Luka Samanic (G League; Two-Way) is out.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by New York Knicks beat writer Stefan Bondy, who covers the team for the New York Daily News. He was kind enough to take the time and provide his insight on the Knicks.

*Note this conversation took place prior to the Magic’s game against the Knicks on Friday

Savage: “What did you see out of Obi Toppin in the opener? He clearly played a big role in that win.”

Bondy: “Yeah. So, (Tom) Thibodeau has been reluctant to go with a small lineup with Obi Toppin and Julius Randle together, putting Julius Randle at the five mostly because Thibodeau likes to have a traditional center in there for defensive purposes and rim protection. But he was kind of forced into it because Taj Gibson was out for personal reasons and Nerlens Noel had a sore knee. He was kind of forced into it there and it worked. Obi was fantastic with that unit. He really energized the Knicks in the second half. They looked a little bit overmatched in the first half, but that lineup adjustment shifted the momentum. Obi Toppin, just based on the player he is in terms of athleticism and ability to make these highlight dunks, really revs up the crowd. So, that played a role as well. Obi Toppin was great (on Wednesday) and I think that lineup with him and Julius Randle in the frontcourt really showed something to Thibodeau. Now, it’s not going to work against (every team). The Celtics were a good opponent for it because they have Robert Williams, who is only six-foot-nine, as their center. But I think they showed Thibodeau it’s a place he can go more often this season. He really didn’t do it at all last season.”

Savage: “He may be new to New York, but Magic fans are familiar with Evan Fournier. What impact did he have in game one and what kind of impression has he made on you since joining the Knicks?”

Bondy: “In terms of a media perspective, he’s been great. I’m sure you know, he’s open and honest and he tries in these press conference settings, which as a reporter you can certainly appreciate it. On the court, listen, he struggled in preseason. It wasn’t his best preseason. We thought he might take a little while to adjust and then boom. Crunch time hit (on Monday) and he was amazing in crunch time. He was amazing in the overtimes and in the fourth quarter, that’s when he really came alive. They would not have won that game without him. He and Julius Randle were the engines for the Knicks offense last night.”

Savage: “As we look ahead to their meeting with the Magic, what adjustments do you expect the Knicks to make or areas that Thibodeau will be looking to improve on?”

Bondy: “I think there’s a good chance Taj Gibson will be back. The reason he missed the first game was he became a father. So, he probably will come back, but I’m not sure about that yet. If he does come back, I think he will be inserted into the starting lineup and the Knicks will go with more of a traditional center. And Mitchell Robinson will slide over to the backup center. Or he could still start Mitchell Robinson and Taj Gibson as the backup. Either way, Taj Gibson, if he’s back, will have some minutes. So, that will be the big adjustment. Defensively, Thibodeau is going to look back at the tape against the Celtics and not be very happy. They gave up a lot of easy buckets. Jaylen Brown was killing them. RJ Barrett did a good job against Jayson Tatum, but other than that, I think they struggled defensively. I think Thibodeau is really going to hammer that home for this game coming up against the Magic.”

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