Photo Credit: AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.

Knicks stumble again in the second half

Lately, it has been the same sad story for the New York Knicks. Anyone who watches Knicks game religiously could tell you how the story begins and how the story ends. Likewise, that’s how the story unfolded against the Orlando Magic. Here’s a summary of events that usually take place during Knicks games:

First, the Knicks fall behind early. After the Knicks stumble in the first quarter, they regain some momentum and mount a comeback. Usually, that comeback gives Knicks fans false hope of a Knicks comeback win. Then the fourth quarter comes, and the Knicks crumble like shortcake. On Sunday night, Knicks fans were treated to another disappointing Knicks story.

Orlando Magic stats

Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic rained baskets like a hurricane. Both players led the Orlando Magic to a 131-117 beatdown of the Knicks at Amway Center. Gordon led the way with 31 points on 13-of-17 shooting. Also, Gordon nailed four of his eight three-point attempts. Vucevic used his extensive skill set to dismantle the Knicks. He nearly finished with a triple-double: twenty-eight points, ten rebounds, and nine assists.

Knicks fall behind in the first quarter, again

As usual, the Knicks fell behind early to start the game. Orlando jumped out to an early 18-point lead. Gordon started the game red-hot, nailing his first seven jumpers. At one point, Gordon was so hot that he banked in a three from long range. Anyone who’s familiar with basketball knows when the bank is open on Sunday, that player’s jumper is “straight cash homie” like Randy Moss. After Orlando built an 18-point lead, the Knicks false hope comeback began.

Led by a resurgent Trey Burke, the Knicks cut into the lead before the end of the first quarter and only trailed by thirteen. When the second quarter began, the Knicks continued to ride their newfound momentum. Burke continued his onslaught early in the second to help bring the Knicks within nine. Afterward, it was the Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter show.

In the second quarter, the Knicks show some life

Both Hardaway Jr. and Kanter carried the offensive load for the Knicks throughout the majority of the second quarter. The best moment of the game came late in the second quarter when the Knicks cut the Magic’s lead to one.

Following Gordon’s dunk which restored the Magic’s advantage to seven with less than a minute to go, Hardaway Jr. quickly responded with a three-point play. Jonathan Simmons tried to answer with a three of his own but missed. Frank Ntilikina grabbed the board and passed the ball to Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay pushed the ball and found Noah Vonleh open for three. Vonleh rose up from deep to nail the jumper to cut the Knicks deficit to one. At halftime, the Knicks trailed 67-66.

Despite the Knicks’ spirited comeback, the players eventually ran out of gas. Like clockwork, the Knicks fell behind early, mounted a comeback, then faltered when it mattered the most. In the third quarter, the Knicks continued to show fight but couldn’t do enough to take their first lead of the game.

Orlando regains momentum in the second half to finish the Knicks

Evan Fournier, Gordon, and Vucevic made sure the Knicks wouldn’t regain their momentum. All three players combined to score thirteen points during Orlando’s 20-9 run which restored their lead to twelve. Throughout the third, the Knicks continued to claw back and found themselves down by six to end the quarter. Again, the Knicks tried to get over the hump but slipped when they nearly reached the top.

Early in the fourth, Burke nailed a three to bring the Knicks within three. That’s as close as the Knicks could get. Orlando eventually pushed the lead back to eight following a Terrence Ross three-pointer during a short 7-2 spurt. Later, Kanter finished a three-point play to bring the Knicks within five. After Kanter’s basket, the Knicks trailed 107-102 with 7:50 remaining. What transpired afterward was a Magic offensive outburst.

Orlando went on a 9-2 run to put the Knicks away for good. The key play during that run was a nasty no-look pass from D.J. Augustin to Jonathan Isaac for the slam that gave Orlando a 116-104 lead. On that play, Mudiay lost Isaac on a back-cut, and Augustin was able to find Isaac and put some sauce on the pass for extra style points.

New York Knicks stats

Hardaway Jr. continues to carry the heavy load on offense for the Knicks. He finished with 32 points. Burke provided Hardaway Jr. with significant help. He ended the game with 31 points. Kanter played a monster game off the bench. He notched another double-double: twenty-one points and nineteen rebounds.

David Fizdale needs to alter his starting lineup

In closing, David Fizdale needs to go back to his old starting lineup with a bit of a twist. Inserting Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier, and Mudiay into the starting lineup hasn’t been effective, especially when it comes to defense. To keep a solid offensive and defensive balance, Fizdale has to consider bringing back Ntilikina and Vonleh back into the lineup.

Currently, Knox isn’t ready to be a consistent starter. Offensively, he can be productive, but defensively, he’s poor at the moment. Also, Trier seems to be a better player coming off the bench at this point in his early career. Both Ntilikina and Vonleh will provide the defensive balance the Knicks need in the starting lineup.

Last, but not least, Burke needs to be inserted into the starting lineup at point guard. After receiving three straight DNPs, Burke has regained his last season form and has been on a tear lately. He has done enough to warrant another look as a starter. Mudiay has been productive since coming off of injury, but Burke offers more at the moment.

The next stop on the road to Zion will be the Portland Trailblazers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

Key stat

Ntilikina may have scored no points against the Magic, but he played twenty-two minutes with the highest +/- of 10 on the Knicks. Even if Ntilikina isn’t contributing offensively, his defensive presence makes a difference.

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