After a slow start to their three-game road trip, the New York Knicks head to Orlando to battle the surprising Magic for a Friday night matchup.
The New York Knicks certainly haven’t been bad throughout the early stages of the 2023-24 season, but they haven’t been as surprising as what the Orlando Magic have done. A three-game road trip to close out the calendar year will give the Knicks a firsthand opportunity to see what the fuss is about, as they head to Central Florida for part two.
Behind last year’s top overall pick and reigning Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero, the Magic are giving up the sixth-fewest points in the NBA. Banchero, for his merit, is leading the team in scoring, rebounds, and assists. Orlando hasn’t been to the postseason in any of the last four seasons, making their 18-12 start this year as surprising as the Knicks were last year.
In 2022-23, the Knickerbockers finished 47-35 and won their first playoff series in almost a decade. Just a few months later, New York is well on their way to reaching the playoffs again but is dealing with many new issues it didn’t face last year.
Friday night is the first of four matchups between the Knicks and Magic this season. Last year, New York went 2-1 against Orlando.
What: New York Knicks (17-13) @ Orlando Magic (18-12)
Where: Kia Center, Orlando, FL
When/Watch: Friday, 7 p.m. ET, MSG
Who’s Favored: ORL -1.5
Keep An Eye On: RJ Barrett
The RJ Barrett era has been a pretty inconsistent ride. There are some games like the one on Christmas Day, where the efficiency is high, and he looks like he is on the precipice of stardom. Other games, like Wednesday’s contest against the Oklahoma City Thunder, hint at a cloudy future. Fans know that the Knicks have a star in Jalen Brunson. They know what they’ll get out of Julius Randle. The issue is that, from a weekly basis, they don’t know which Barrett will step up. To take that next step into stardom, Barrett needs to show some level of consistency at the highest level.
Floridian to Watch: Paolo Banchero
Banchero has improved in almost every aspect from his stellar rookie season. He remains Orlando’s best player and is well on his way to being an All-Star this season. Banchero is a very tough matchup for the Knicks specifically because of the loss of Mitchell Robinson. Without New York’s dynamic rebounder and defender, it’ll put more pressure on Julius Randle and other defenders to guard Mo Wagner. With one player on Wagner, the best defender can’t go on Banchero or vice versa. As the Knicks try and solve how they’ll defend post-Robinson, Beanchero could be in line for a big game.
“You’re going to finish with different guys and it’s what the game needs. Sometimes it’s matchups, sometimes someone’s got it going, sometimes you need size, you’re looking at the switching. You’re asking guys to sacrifice because you can only put five out there. They have length with their wings, you’re gonna be doing some switching so you’re trying to match up that way.”-head coach Tom Thibodeau on why he played Barrett over Immanuel Quickley in the final minutes of Wednesday’s game
Brunson is playing like a top 10 player in the NBA now. While Banchero is certainly on that path, this game is going to come down to which of the role players will step up when needed.