The New York Knicks are finally back in the win column and need some momentum now that they're finally back home. Fortunately, they have already defeated the Orlando Magic three times this season, and a win on Wednesday would mean a season series sweep.
Just the same, the deck is not stacked in the Knicks' favor. The team has lost four of five, and may not have Carmelo Anthony or Tyson Chandler due to separate knee injuries.
Orlando, meanwhile, is on a cold streak of its own and has not been able to solve New York this season. With a rowdy Madison Square Garden crowd cheering the Knicks on and the Magic bound for the lottery, it's going to be tough to come away with the win even if the two best New York players are out with injuries.
With one team looking to finish out a bad season with a bang and another just struggling to keep pace in the playoff race, this game should be incredibly fun to watch.
Time: Wednesday, March 20, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: MSG, Fox Sports Florida
Records: Orlando Magic (18-49) vs. New York Knicks (39-26)
Injuries: Rasheed Wallace (foot, out), Amar'e Stoudemire (knee, out), Carmelo Anthony (knee, day-to-day), Tyson Chandler (knee/neck, day-to-day), Jason Kidd (wrist, day-to-day), Glen Davis (foot, out), Hedo Turkoglu (suspension, out), Andrew Nicholson (illness, day-to-day), via ESPN
Key Storyline: Knicks Seek Season Series Sweep Against Orlando
Based on how the Knicks have played against Orlando all season long, the odds would appear to be in their favor. Not only did they pull off a 99-89 victory on Nov. 13, but they also won 114-106 on Jan. 5 and 113-97 on Jan. 30.
But the stage is different now. The Knicks' star those previous three games was Carmelo Anthony, who has averaged 28.3 points per contest against Orlando this year, and he may not even play in this game.
Without their star player, the Knicks' attack becomes a lot less dangerous, and even less so if reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler is unable to suit up. The Magic have proven to be a young and feisty team, despite their poor record, and could easily run all over the Knicks should New York be shorthanded.
That means that regardless of whether or not Chandler and Anthony suit up for this game, the Knicks will need to rely on good old-fashioned experience to bring home the win. Whether it be having a full commitment to defense or just being committed to shooting the ball well, the Knicks have every weapon possible to control this game and sweep the season series against Orlando.
It's just a matter of execution.
Key Matchup: Iman Shumpert vs. Arron Afflalo
Should the Knicks not have Anthony and Chandler available, chances are Orlando will look to take the wind out of New York's sails via shooting the lights out. That's where Afflalo comes in, as he is leading Orlando with 17 points per game.
The former UCLA Bruin has also been on a tear as of late, averaging 19.4 points over his last five games. If he can be slowed down at all, then the Knicks would have a great shot at victory.
Enter Iman Shumpert, who has continued to be a fine pest in his second NBA season. His on-ball defense continues to be the best part of his game and his scoring has also gotten more effective over his last five. Through that stretch, Shumpert has averaged 9.4 points while making 46 percent of his attempts from the field and 50 percent of his threes.
If he can keep Afflalo at bay while also being something of a force on offense, then the Knicks will easily have a shot at winning this game.
If just one aspect of his game is off, however, that gives the Magic an opening that New York may not be able to shut.
X-Factor: Kenyon Martin
The Knicks' defense must be top notch in this game, which means a good performance from Kenyon Martin. The veteran has been a great defender both in the perimeter and the post since joining the Knicks on a 10-day contract in February and is averaging 5.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in a bench role.
But Martin's minutes increased once Chandler and Anthony got hurt, and he has done a fine job of stepping up his effort. Over his last five games, he is averaging 6.6 points, six rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 48 percent from the field. At 6'9", 240 pounds, he still has the size to be a force in the post and play excellent defense.
He needs to continue playing that type of game when Orlando comes to town, even if he has slowed down with age at 35 years old. He must be as tough as nails on defense and not be afraid to contribute on the offensive side.
Despite his age, the man can still play the game at a respectable level.
That level must maintain itself and perhaps reach higher against the Magic, especially with the Knicks fighting to stay within the Eastern Conference's top three.
Predicted Starting Lineups
PG: Jameer Nelson
SG: Arron Afflalo
SF: Moe Harkless
PF: Tobias Harris
C: Nikola Vucevic
PG: Raymond Felton
SG: Iman Shumpert
SF: Chris Copeland
PF: Carmelo Anthony
C: Marcus Camby
In Carmelo Anthony's triumphant return to the court, the Knicks will run the table and pull off a season series sweep of the Magic. Nothing against Orlando, but they are just too young and inexperienced to keep up with a veteran-laden roster like New York's.
Anthony will be like his old self, having a great shooting night and leading the Knicks in scoring. His knee injury will become a distant memory in the blink of an eye as he hits threes, fadeaway jumpers and drives the lane en route to an MVP-like performance.
He will get plenty of help from Iman Shumpert on defense, as the second-year guard will prove to be incredibly pesky for Afflalo and the entire Magic squad. Throw in another solid performance from J.R. Smith, and the Knicks have this one in the bag.
New York Knicks 107, Orlando Magic 96
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