The New York Knicks are coming off a key win against the feisty Atlanta Hawks on January 27, and now get to take on a weaker team in the Orlando Magic. First-year head coach Jacque Vaughn's team has lost six in a row, and will seek to break its streak against a Knicks team that ranks second in the Eastern Conference.
New York has also already defeated the Magic twice already this season, on November 13 and January 5. Both of those games were at the Amway Center, however, and the scene has now changed. Orlando now has to deal with a loud and raucous Madison Square Garden crowd, one that has cheered the Knicks to a 15-6 record at home.
That doesn't mean that the Knicks have this game in the bag. Both games against the Magic have been close, and Orlando also ranks fifth in assists per game and 13th in rebounding. New York may have the better record, but their young opponents have what it takes to pull off the upset.
Throw in that the Knicks have played fairly weak defense as of late, and this game becomes anything but a guarantee. This contest is the chance for Mike Woodson's signature tough defense to be back in full force, and for New York to reestablish itself as an Eastern Conference superpower that is back in action.
Time: Wednesday, January 30th, 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: MSG, Fox Sports Florida
Records: Orlando Magic (14-30) vs. New York Knicks (27-15)
Betting Line: Not available as of Tuesday, January 29, 12:44 p.m. EST
Injuries: Rasheed Wallace (foot, out), Marcus Camby (foot, out), Tyson Chandler (neck, day-to-day), Jason Kidd (back, day-to-day), Al Harrington (knee, out), Arron Afflalo (calf, day-to-day)
Key Storyline: Can Knicks Seal Season Series Against Slumping Magic?
The Knicks have faced Orlando twice this season and won both times. However, each victory was unique in that New York did not take control until late in the game.
The first win took place on November 7, with Carmelo Anthony's 25 points and eight rebounds leading New York to a 99-89 win at the Amway Center. However, the score was 82-80 at one point in the fourth quarter, and the Knicks did not ice the game until a 13-4 run.
Fast forward to January 5, when New York visited the Amway Center again. Orlando actually led 89-81 entering the fourth quarter, only to be on the wrong end of a 33-17 run that saw the Knicks win 114-109, this time on the back of 40 points by Anthony.
At Madison Square Garden, the Knicks cannot let the Magic pull ahead or be in control at any point. This shouldn't be too hard, as Orlando is just 22nd in points scored with 95 a game, and New York is 10th with 100.4.
However, though the Knicks are ninth in points allowed, they give up 96.3 points per game.
Sure enough, Orlando is going to take advantage of that along with New York ranking 27th and 28th, respectively, in rebounding and assists. This is a team that is on a six-game losing streak, and defeating the Knicks in front of a stunned MSG crowd would be one hell of a bounty.
This just means that Mike Woodson is going to be in complete defensive mode, from having Jameer Nelson locked down to taking advantage of the slow-footed Glen "Big Baby" Davis. The Knicks haven't played defense like that in weeks, and this game is the opportunity for them to show the fans the same fire they had early in the season.
In doing that, this game can turn into a blowout.
Key Matchup: Tyson Chandler vs. Nikola Vucevic
Tyson Chandler is day-to-day with a neck injury, but he has always been one to fight through injuries ever since becoming a Knick. That said, it is vitally important that he use his experience to shut down Nikola Vucevic.
On the season, Vucevic is averaging 11.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. He has good size at 7'0", 240 pounds, and has shown incredible poise in the paint for just a second year player. Over his last five games, he has averaged 14.6 points and 12 rebounds.
Vucevic has also shown a knack for hitting jump shots, which is a solid asset for any NBA center to have so long as they can balance it with their inside game. Of course, Vucevic has done just that since being sent to Orlando in the Dwight Howard blockbuster last summer.
Tyson Chandler is a different type of center. He is just an inch taller than his younger opponent and is all about defense. In fact, he is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
The first-time All-Star has posted 11.7 points and 10.7 rebounds this season, and also leads the NBA with a field-goal percentage of 68 percent. His offense over his last five games has been minimal, just six points per game, but the Knicks do not need him to put up crazy scoring numbers in this game against Orlando, nor in any other game.
All that is needed from Chandler is defense, and he has provided that over his last five to the tune of 9.2 boards and 1.4 blocks per contest.
However, despite greater experience, Chandler has been out-rebounded by Vucevic 28-18 this season. The Magic are definitely going to take advantage of that, looking to get Vucevic the ball and force Chandler to play a bit harder than usual.
The Knicks are fortunate in that Chandler's work ethic is off the charts, and he wants to win this battle just as badly Vucevic. It's just a matter of which man executes his plan better, and whoever wins that part of the fight, wins the game.
X-Factor: Amar'e Stoudemire
Amar'e Stoudemire missed the first two months of the season recovering from knee surgery, and was naturally rusty in his first few games back. He has since returned to full strength and become an absolute beast off the bench for the Knicks.
Stoudemire is averaging just 12.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in 12 games this season, but he has been far better his last five games. The six-time All-Star has posted 17 points and 6.2 rebounds in that stretch, and has shot an incredible 61 percent from the field.
He is the Knicks' size off the bench, and what with Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby both being injured, Stoudemire needs to use his new low post game and 6'11", 245 pound frame to give New York an extra edge. Stoudemire had just 11 points in the Knicks' last game against Orlando, and he is now in good enough game shape that he can do even better.
This means working the inside and creating mismatches against Vucevic and Davis. It means relying more on driving the lane for a dunk or layup and not so much on his mid-range jumper. Granted, it's not what Stoudemire has been used to for most of his career, but he has adjusted well and is slowly learning how to be a better defender in the middle.
The Knicks are going to need him to perform as well as he has recently against young Orlando. Davis and Vucevic are two talented young big men, and have the low post presences that New York seemingly lacks. Stoudemire utilizing this new part of his game can decide the outcome of this contest, and Knicks fans and management alike will be ecstatic if he can make that kind of difference en route to another victory.
The Knicks have plenty of momentum following their recent win against the Atlanta Hawks, and they will ride that to an even bigger victory against the Magic. Unlike the two previous games, Orlando will fall behind early and never recover. The Madison Square Garden crowd will be at full volume from the get-go, and the Magic simply won't be able to handle it.
Tyson Chandler and Nikola Vucevic will battle to a stalemate in the paint and both men will register double-doubles. Carmelo Anthony will lead the way in scoring once again, his magical shooting touch back at its best, following a record-tying performance in Atlanta.
Who will win?
On Orlando's end, Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis and Arron Afflalo will do all they can to keep their team in the game. Sadly, Amar'e Stoudemire will have other ideas.
The veteran big man will turn in an excellent performance once again, playing solid defense and scoring when he has to in helping the Knicks win their second straight. If people didn't know he was back, this game will drive that message home.
New York will thus start their five-game homestand with a 2-0 record, and Orlando will leave the Empire State on a seven-game losing streak.
New York Knicks 102, Orlando Magic 92