Orlando Magic at New York Knicks: Game Preview

Cole Anthony
by Dan Savage

Over the course of the NBA season, there are some games you’d like to remember and others you hope to forget.

The Orlando Magic (3-11) will be searching for an encore performance of their last visit to Madison Square Garden when they go head-to-head with the New York Knicks (8-6) on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

The Magic earned their first win of the season back on Oct. 24 with a stellar opening act from Cole Anthony – who scored 15 of his team-high 29 points in the first quarter – followed by an electric closing performance from Terrence Ross – a 22-point fourth quarter – that stunned the Knicks at MSG.

While those statlines may be hard to recreate, Orlando can mirror the offensive and defensive activity that helped create those scoring outbursts.

“I think the keys in that win were definitely ball pressure, ball movement was something that we focused on a lot, and just staying together and playing together,” said Magic guard R.J. Hampton. “This time, we remain the same and do our same game plan.”

Also, a big factor in that victory was Orlando’s defensive intensity. The Magic held the Knicks to just 37 percent shooting from the floor and 27.1 shooting from distance.

“Defensively, we strung together some stops for the full forty-eight minutes,” said Magic big man Wendell Carter Jr. “We weathered their storms; we weathered their runs really well. No matter what happened on the offensive end, we consistently guarded. I feel like that’s going to be very important again this time.”

One player who’s sure to play a big role on that end of the floor is rookie Franz Wagner. The No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft has flashed his defensive versatility early and often. After guarding Atlanta’s electric point guard Trae Young on Monday, Wagner will likely be tasked with limiting Knicks All-Star Julius Randle on Wednesday.

“His ability to be a position defender, smart defender, understanding gaps and areas on the floor, how he can use his length,” Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley said of the 6-foot-10 forward. “It gives us such a versatile unit that we can switch at times. We can trap at times. He understands rotations. It says a lot about us and just his ability to defend multiple positions.”

KEY STAT: It’s no secret that Anthony is having a sensational start to his sophomore NBA campaign. Among second-year players, he’s second in points (20.2), third in assists (5.6), seventh in rebounds (6.6), and sixth in steals (1.2) per game, while knocking down the most total 3-pointers (43) at a rate of 39.4 percent.

Even among all players, the 6-foot-4 guard is standing out. He’s poured in the second-most fourth-quarter points (89) of anyone in the association, trailing only DeMar DeRozan (105).

Also, per Sportsradar, Anthony has made and assisted on a total of 89 triples this season. That’s the second most in the league behind only Stephen Curry (106).

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s making the game a lot easier for me. Just being able to get some of those shots, now teams are going to have to respect it. It helps my teammates out too. From the three-point line, players are going to have to guard me. You can’t just sag all the way off of me. So, it helps me in terms of being able to get easy points, easy shots, and it also helps my team by opening the court up.” – Carter on his improved range. He’s 7-for-9 from three over the last two games. Last season, during his 22-game stint with Orlando, the Duke alum knocked down a total of just seven triples.

IN AND OUT: After a one-game absence Jalen Suggs (ankle) will be available to play, while Michael Carter-Williams (left ankle), Markelle Fultz (left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee), and E’Twaun Moore (left knee sprain) all remain out for Orlando.

For New York, Nerlens Noel (sprained right knee) and Luka Samanic (G League – Two-Way) are out.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Ashley Nicole Moss, an on-hair host for Sports Illustrated, host of the Certified Buckets podcast, and contributor for SNY. She was generous enough to take the time to answer three questions about the Knicks in advance of their matchup with the Magic.

Savage: “The Knicks are off to an 8-6 start to the season. What have been your big takeaways from the team early in their 2021-22 campaign?”

Moss: “There’s been a few. I think our second unit is drastically better and that’s attributed a lot to the second-year jump of Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley. Also, the consistency and the veteran leadership of Derrick Rose. There have been instances where they play better than the starters, which is why Knicks fans scream at (head coach Tom Thibodeau) through their TV screen or at the games. Like ‘why are you taking them out?’ But I think that second unit is really starting to jell and it’s reflecting in the way that the players within that unit are coming into their own, like I said, the young guys specifically.

On the con side of that, the negative part of that, the substitution of offense for defense. That’s been a big thing. Our offense drastically got better. There’s a lot more depth. But because of that, the defense has suffered. Defense is seventy percent effort and thirty percent scheme. So, you can see the game against the Pacers as a perfect example. They were able to go ahead and execute both aspects of defense. You look at some other games, the scheme is there, but the effort lacks. That’s something that they’re definitely going to have to work on because as the season progresses and especially when you start talking about the postseason and playoffs and all that stuff, defense – I’m still a firm believer; I know Steph Curry is dropping fifty points a game and it’s all cool and dandy – but I’m a firm believer that defense still wins championships. Sometimes you do not score. Sometimes the shots are just not falling on certain nights, but your defense always travels. You can always play D. So, I’m a firm believer that it still wins championships as much as we love the three-ball and all that good stuff. You can’t win a championship without playing solid and consistent D. So, that’s something that the Knicks are definitely going to have to work on. And I think Thibs is going to go ahead and resort back to the ways of last season. Ultimately, that where he’s comfortable and that’s (on the defensive end).”

Savage: “Magic fans are familiar with Evan Fournier, who spent close to seven seasons in Orlando. What have you seen from him since he’s joined the Knicks?”

Moss: “Great shooter when he can get set. I think he struggles sometimes with creating his own shot off the dribble. I think the Knicks are going to have to work to get him more spot-up shooting opportunities. I think that’s really where he flourishes. But when he’s on, he’s on. I’m a big fan of Fournier. I watched him in the Olympics this year. When the Knicks made that acquisition, I was extremely happy. I know some Knicks fans were like ‘Evan Fournier? What?’ I already knew that he was going to fit in. You know, it’s an adjustment. We’re still very early in the season. I know as basketball fans we’re really excited that we have a full-blown season and that everything counts and we’re going out the window really, really quick. We have to remember, it’s still so early in the season. A lot of teams are adjusting. A lot of teams that you thought were going to be really good are struggling. Teams that you didn’t think were going to be good are flourishing. The league is just all over the place right now. It’s just very, very early.

But I think one of Evan’s downfalls is that his defensive intensity is not great. Thibs is going to have to go ahead and put a chip in his head I guess (laughter) to go ahead and activate his defensive abilities because sometimes he kind of gives up on defensive plays. Like I said, I’m a firm believer in defense being one of the big reasons that you win championships, and you win playoff series.”

Savage: “Along those lines, what do you think will be the biggest key to the Knicks having a strong season and possibly making some noise in the playoffs?”

Moss: “It’s going to go back, like I said, to the defense. The scoring is not an issue. The Knicks have the depth, they have the people who can score. We’ve seen that in some of games that they’ve won and even in some of the games that they’ve lost. The scoring has been there. Scoring doesn’t come every single night though. Again, it’s going back to that defense. As I said before, the game slows down in the playoffs. The game even starts to slow down towards the playoffs. When you start facing teams that have been consistently doing well, that jell better, you have to be able to (disrupt) offenses with your defense. Thibs is going to have to, somewhat, recreate the magic of last season. Again, you have a lot of new guys, a lot of new acquisitions. Creating that magic once again is not going to be an easy task because now you have new personalities, you have new bodies, you have new styles of play and not everyone is on the same defensive level. The guys who were there last season, they remember what it was like. But the new guys, don’t. You have to get that out of Evan. You have to get that out of Kemba (Walker). You have to make sure that Julius understands the concept of look, we know last season a lot of responsibility was on your shoulders, but now you have to relish in the fact that you have help. A lot of times you watch him in games, and I think he resorts back to old ways, which you can understand. (Where he thinks) ‘if I don’t take the shot, the shot is not going to happen.’ He has to reprogram his mind to say look ‘I have the help now. If I don’t have the shot, pass the rock. It doesn’t always have to be me.’ I think those little things are going to make a huge difference. Lastly, Thibs’ adjustments. The rotations. Every coach goes into a game with a plan, but that plan is irrelevant once you get smacked in the mouth. So, you have to go ahead and be able to adjust accordingly and watch the game that’s happening on the court and throw your plan out the window and say ‘new plan. This is what we’re going to do.’ I think those are little things, but when you’re actually executing them, they take a lot of habit forming. I think those habits start right now, in the regular season.”

You can listen to Ashley Nicole Moss talk more about the Knicks on the latest episode of the Certified Buckets podcast.

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