By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Magic | Madison Square Garden
When: Wednesday | 7:30 PM
Where to Watch: MSG Networks
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York: Home sweet home...The Knicks return to Madison Square Garden having braved the worst of what a five-game road trip could dish out. Injuries to their two All-Stars (Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler) and others (Kurt Thomas will miss 2-4 weeks with a bone spur) created the steepest of uphill climbs against some of the best teams in the Western Conference. But even though the Knicks dropped four of five, there was a decidedly upward trajectory to the trip once it "bottomed out" the night the lost Melo and Chandler. They competed against Portland and the Clippers and pulled out a gritty win Monday night in Utah.
UPDATE: Carmelo Anthony is listed as "probable" for tonight, meaning that he could go barring a setback before the game.
Orlando: At this point -- if it wasn't before the season began -- the Magic's focus is on the future. At 18-50, they have the second-worst record in the NBA, but of course with 13 games remaining after tonight, that translates to "second-most ping pong balls in the draft lottery." They've won only four of their last 30 games, but consistent with their master plan, they have continued to prioritize development of some intriguing young players and the results have been mostly positive. New addition Tobias Harris, whom they picked up in exchange for J.J. Redick at the trade deadline, has joined Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson as players that could be part of a competitive core a few years down the road.
Last Time Out
New York: In one of the more impressive victories of the season, the shorthanded Knicks went to Utah -- a very difficult place to play -- on the second night of a back-to-back and came away with a 90-83 victory.
Orlando: The Magic scored a season-low 39 points in the first half and were no match for the Indiana Pacers last night, and lost, 95-73.
The Numbers Game
After going 67 games without a technical foul in his first season as Orlando's head coach, mild-mannered Jacque Vaughn earned two (and the subsequent ejection) last night against the Pacers. In 12 years as a player, he only received two technical fouls.
Matchup to Watch
Chris Copeland vs. Tobias Harris
Only two 20-year olds in NBA history have shot better than 47% from the field, 35% from 3 and 80% from the free throw line: Harris and Kevin Durant. With the starting lineup in constant flux until Melo and Chandler return and the Knicks' propensity to switch on screens, it's anybody's guess who will be guarding Harris primarily. But whether it's Copeland or Kenyon Martin or someone else, it'll be an assignment to be taken seriously. After falling out of the rotation in Milwaukee and the subsequent trade, he's started last six games for his new team and is turning heads. Copeland continues to impress with his scoring, and will be counted on to continue that as the Knicks' offense looks for guys to fill the void left by Melo's injury.
What to Look For
Injuries: In addition to the knee injury that caused him to miss most of the road trip, an MRI for Chandler showed a bulging disc in his neck that will keep him out for about a week, according to Knicks PR. Melo is questionable to return, but the team could take the long view there and be patient before bringing him back. Thomas, as mentioned, will miss the next 2-4 weeks after turning in an epic 27 minutes Monday night in Utah.
That means it will be up to the rest of the guys to keep fighting the good fight. Even in the losses, they had stretches of impressive ball movement and largely played inspired defense. Shots weren't falling, for the most part, but their new go-to scorer J.R. Smith showed a commitment to attacking the basket, which resulted in trips to the line. Getting easy opportunities will be key until they are back at full strength.