Porzingis’s 20-Point Return Leads Knicks Past Orlando 101-90

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Photo Credit: USA Today Sports Images

What a difference defense makes. Kristaps Porzingis returned from a sprained ankle and delivered 20 points and 9 rebounds to lead a defense-minded Knicks over the Magic 101-90. It was one of the rare times the Knicks played consistent defense and entire night and didn’t falter on defense in the fourth. How did they do it? It started with a simple lineup change.

SLIDING TO NATURAL POSITIONS: With Willy Hernangomez sitting out, Porzingis started at center, which moved Carmelo Anthony to power forward and Lance Thomas into the starting lineup at small forward. This improved the defense tremendously as Melo could no longer be exploited by athletic SFs. It remains to be seen if this can continue against teams with prolific stretch fours.

ANTHONY SETS THE TONE: Melo poured in 11 of his 17 points in the first quarter. He didn’t shoot well (4/16), but his presence was enough to open up the floor. His passing was much better than the two assists he tallied, making him a +18 for the game.

ROSE AND KP: Derrick Rose was arguably our best all-around player tonight. He poured in 19 points on 8/14 shooting, but also grabbed 7 rebounds to go with 4 assists.

The concern with KP playing center are potential injuries due to his thin frame. Tonight, he banged with Nikola Vuceviv and held his own. The three point shot wasn’t there (2/7), but he did damage on PNR and looked fluid working off the dribble.

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LANCE THOMAS: I’ve been giving this guy grief for most of the year. But he finally seems healthy and ready to recapture last season’s form. His defense was a contributing factor to the Magic never getting into a groove and only managing 39 points in the second half. Lance was also competent on offense, being one of five Knicks to hit double figures with 11 points.

The Knicks road trip continues against the 76ers on Friday.

Rock Bottom: Boos Rain Down As Magic Embarrass Knicks at MSG

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Photo Credit: USA Today Sports Images

We officially suck. That can’t be denied as the Knicks kicked off the year with the worst loss of the season in getting dominated by the lowly Orlando Magic. I refrained from writing about this game the last two days because I was absolutely disgusted. But before possibly notching our sixth straight loss to the Bucks tonight, let’s look at some of the persistent problems.

PERIMETER DEFENSE: Here’s a funny stat. Before this losing streak, the Knicks were ranked #10 in perimeter defense. But that was very deceptive considering New York only has one win against an elite team this year (Memphis at the beginning of the season). And if you watched the games, the weak teams were still getting wide open shots despite not making them. Now with teams comfortable with their offense, those open shots are murdering the Knicks.

Why are these shots so open? The Knicks are not communicating on defense. No one knows when to help, resulting in haphazard rotations where you’ll see three guys converge on one player and leaving the perimeter wide open.

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The next issue is simply pieces that don’t fit. These aged and banged up versions of Joakim Noah and Carmelo Anthony struggle to keep their man in front of them. Both are getting killed in PNR. With Melo, he’s no longer quick enough to guard small forwards. The problem with moving him to the 4 means you’d either have to move Porzingis back to the bench (hurting the offense and his development), or risk injury by putting him at center before his body is truly ready.

The other less acknowledged issue is when Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings play together. On offense, they can light it up when they’re on with penetration. But they’re also prone to hero ball and even worse, getting lost on PNR. Unless Porzingis is roaming the paint, Hornacek has to be careful when using that backcourt.

MAGIC BECOME THE WARRIORS: That all brings me to Monday’s game. The Magic came out and hit 3 three-pointers to start the game. Jodie Meeks had 17 points in the first half and finished with 23 (6/7 from downtown). Two other Magic starters scored over 20 points: Serge Ibaka (22) and Aaron Gordon (22). Speaking of Gordon, you know the defense is hideous when he’s hitting step-back 3s.

MOVE WITHOUT THE BALL: Another huge issue is the ball movement. Yes, we have some dynamic one-on-one players in Melo and D-Rose, but that should only be relied on when they’re on fire. When the ball is constantly being pounded into them, it makes the offense predictable and easy to defend. It kills me to see Melo given the ball with less than 10 seconds on the shot clock and NO ONE attempting to cut to the basket. The strategy resulted in the team notching just 18 assists to the Magic’s 35.

IT STARTS AT THE TOP: I’m not one of those guys that places all the blame on Carmelo. The problems I listed are full team issues. However, he is the leader of the team. The team is normally reflective of his mood and play. If he’s complaining a lot of the refs, the rest of the team follows suit. Lazy on defense? You’ll see it on other players. He needs to step out of his comfort zone and take a more vocal on-court role.

Tonight’s Bucks game will not be easy. I can accept a loss, but not the effort we’ve seen over the last few games.

 

 

Knicks Bench Closes Out Magic 106-95

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Photo Credit: USA Today Images

It was a sloppy game filled with haphazard play, but the Knicks made key passes and shots when it mattered to take a comfortable 106-95 win over the Magic.

This isn’t a game you’ll see many highlight packages on. Carmelo Anthony only had 15 points on 5/17 shooting. Porzingis was 5/11 for just 11 points.

The bench was where this game was won. Brandon Jennings’ play proved contagious and had the Knicks bursting with energy. He dished for 12 assists in 22 minutes with Willy Hernangomez as the main target. The rookie hit five straight field goals during the fourth quarter and finished with 15 points and 5 rebounds. Kyle O’Quinn had another monster night with 14 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocks. The bearded Queens native was a one man army that outrebounded the combined efforts of Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic.

Derrick Rose had a weird night. Biyombo blocked no less than four of his shots in the first half. He wasn’t particularly aggressive in pushing the issue in the second half. And yet, when you look checked the scoreboard, he was finished with 19 points in 26 minutes.

A scary moment came early in the the fourth when Porzingis fell awkwardly off a missed layup. He limped off the court, but luckily suffered just a right knee contusion and was eligible to return.

Tonight’s win continues the Knicks’ dominance at home, where they’ve won 10 of their last 12. However, it shouldn’t be lost on us that the Knicks face a reality check against the Celtics on Christmas Day. Boston is #1 in our division and New York has not won a nationally televised game this season.

 

 

Bench Failure: Magic Outhustle Knicks 100-91

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AP Photo/John Raoux

ORLANDO — We need to stay out of Florida for the foreseeable future. After dropping a turd of a performance on Monday against the Heat, I swore the team would get it together on pride alone for the Magic last night. Instead, we pretty much equaled Monday’s futility with horrid shooting from the field (37%) and sheer ineptitude from the bench.

The Magic didn’t shoot well either during the first half, but they put together a key run in the second to go up by double digits at halftime, 46-35. By the time we started hitting shots, scoring 28 points in both the third and fourth quarters, the Magic got by on getting to the line (27-32 FT) to win comfortably.

Speaking of the fouls, the Knicks were on the wrong side on many questionable ones. Jason Smith were very physical with Porzingis to the point of knocking him down and standing over him while talking trash. That move prompted Melo to get right in his face and that put an end to the nonsense. However, Smith didn’t get a tech for his behavior while Melo got one later for mouthing off.

Speaking of Melo, he and Calderon were the only ones that had strong offensive games. Melo dropped 28 points (9/17) and grabbed 13 boards. Calderon had his best scoring output as a Knick with 23 points on 50% shooting.

Four of the five starters hit double figures, but the bench failed again to keep the team in position to win. They were outscored 43-12 by Orlando’s reserves, mostly due to Victor Oladipo dropping 24 points. Some of the blame there needs to be placed on Derek Fisher’s bad rotations. Some of the lineups, like ones featuring Seraphin, O’Quinn, Thomas, Vujacic and Grant made you wonder who was supposed to score. Inevitably, lineups like that allowed Magic to stretch their leads.

Once again, a bad game from Porzingis was still productive. The Latvian rookie had 10 points (3/13 FG), 8 rebounds and 6 blocks. His best highlight was one of those blocks turning back an Oladipo dunk. His challenge in these type of games is continuing to look for smart shots over forcing it.

Fisher better be using this Thanksgiving to get his rotations together for a revenge game on Black Friday against the Heat.