Orlando Magic vs. New York Knicks: Game Preview

Mo Bamba
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO – Opening night crowds can certainly make a difference.

Just ask the New York Knicks, whose raucous fans played an instrumental role in the team’s double-overtime victory over the Boston Celtics to open their season at Madison Square Garden.

The Orlando Magic (0-1) hope that their fans at Amway Center will have a similar impact in their home opener on Friday at 7 p.m. ET when they host the Knicks (1-0).

“It’s the first home game for us,” Magic big man Wendell Carter explained. “I feel like that gives us a little bit of a spark knowing that we’re going to have the fans with us.”

Orlando will look to bounce back from an opening night loss in San Antonio where the team struggled to limit the Spurs in transition, on the glass, and in the paint, all areas where they excelled during the preseason.

“We can’t be outworked,” said Carter, who posted 13 points and eight rebounds against San Antonio. “It’s one thing if they’re making more shots than us or they’re doing certain things on the court, but in terms of just the fifty-fifty balls, the offensive glass, taking care of the ball, (and) getting back in transition, those are things we can control. I feel like those are things we have to do a better job of.”

The Magic will instead look to better resemble the squad that opened that contest on a 17-10 run as they utilized great ball movement and cutting on the offensive end and a staunch set defense on the other side of the floor.

“We started off very well,” Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley explained. “There was some poise to us. There was our ability to get some reads defensively. We were active and aggressive.”

Orlando will also hope to get a similar performance from center Mo Bamba, whose scorching start to the preseason carried over into regular season action.

The 7-footer tallied team highs in points (18) and blocks (four) to go along with four rebounds and four assists.

“I think Mo was very active and aggressive,” Mosley said of the fourth-year center, who averaged an NBA-best 3.8 blocks per game in the preseason. “He did a great job of trying to protect the rim and keep those guys off the rim. But he was very active and aggressive. I liked what Mo Bamba did (on Wednesday).”

IN AND OUT: After initially being named as a starter, Gary Harris experienced tightness in his hamstring and as a result had to miss the opener. He’ll also miss Friday’s contest against the Knicks. 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 questionable, while Nerlens Noel (sore left knee) and Luka Samanic (G League; two-way) are out.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We just talked to the guys about that. These are the parts about learning to be resilient. When you’re down, make sure we keep fighting. Our guys, there were some hits that we took in their game of runs. But I think our guys are learning to sustain the effort and keep fighting no matter what’s going on in the game.” – Mosley on the Magic learning to battle through in-game adversity.

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.

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.”

HOME COOKING: If you’ve yet to get tickets to the Magic’s home opener, but are in the Central Florida region, the team is giving you plenty of reasons to make the trip out. In addition to catching the home opener, and the Amway Center regular season debuts of rookies Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner, fans will also be treated to the following:

  • T-Shirt distribution to every fan in attendance courtesy of AdventHealth
  • Full immersive experience with LED light show technology; every fan will receive a PixMob LED bracelet
  • MagicVision mobile will be featured for all fans to participate in free to play gaming throughout the night
  • Unique player introduction sequence with full team introductions
  • Michelob ULTRA will provide Magic fans 21+ with one complimentary 12 oz. Michelob ULTRA
  • Special halftime performance featuring Itzel Salvatierra, former Cirque du Soleil performer
  • Magic legend and member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will participate in a ceremonial tip-off to celebrate the NBA's 75th anniversary season
  • Fan Fest on Church St., starting at 5:00 p.m., featuring live music, caricature artist, video game truck, rock climbing wall and much more
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