Wednesday, February 24

Knicks hope to hit .500 mark on Magic

RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley were teenagers the last time the New York Knicks were at the .500 mark for at least 30 games in a season.

On Wednesday night, the promising youngsters will try to help the Knicks take their next step in a surprisingly fast march toward respectability when New York visits the Orlando Magic.

The Knicks moved to a .500 game for their third straight win Monday night, when Julius Randle scored 44 points in a 123-112 win over the visiting Atlanta Hawks. The Magic ended a four-game road trip Sunday with a 109-90 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Barrett (21 points) and Quickley (16 points) were the second and third highest scorers on Monday as New York improved to 14-15 and advanced to sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2013, can hit .500 this late on the schedule for the first time since Dec. 30, 2017, when they were 18-18 after a 105-103 win over New Orleans. Pelicans

The Knicks finished just 11-35 the remainder of the season before going 17-65 in 2018-19 and 21-45 during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 campaign, when they did not reach 15 wins until Game 51.

But Knicks first-year coach Tom Thibodeau’s emphasis on defense and discipline has paid immediate dividends for New York, which has allowed an NBA low of 103.6 points per game this season.

“The (Thibodeau) attention to detail is incredible,” Randle said Monday night. “We go into games so prepared, like every game is a playoff game. That’s how good it is. It’s a complete culture change for sure. It has held everyone accountable. We all enjoy the process.”

Enjoyment has been thin of late for Orlando, who started the season 6-2 but is just 4-16 since Markelle Fultz suffered a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 6.

Injuries have continued to pile up for Orlando, which only had eight players available Sunday. James Ennis was offside with a groin injury sustained last Friday, while Al-Farouq Aminu (hamstring) and Cole Anthony (shoulder) were also out. Frank Mason, who replaced Anthony as starting point guard, injured his groin Thursday and was released a day later. On Sunday, the Magic started Terrence Ross, 30, at point guard, his first start since Nov. 25, 2017.

The Magic trailed wire-to-wire Sunday, but managed to cut a 26-point deficit in the fourth quarter to 14. Orlando took some comfort from its defensive performance on a road trip that went 1-3. and allowed 112 points or less in each game against the Suns, Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors, all of whom held a playoff spot coming into play Tuesday, and the Sacramento Kings.

“These last four games, particularly in terms of having a way of playing that will give us the opportunity to be more consistent, except at the beginning of the year when we had everyone, these are the best four games that we have played,” said the coach of the Magic, Steve Clifford, Sunday night. “Good teams, on the road. We even (Sunday) did the race to get their headlines back. The first three games, we got in position to win.”

–Field level media

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