While the Knicks are 22-10, the 12-20 Magic have been struggling to hold it together since Dwight Howard left the building. While they've lost seven in a row, they always seem to make things interesting until the final ticks -- even against top teams. Take their last two games, for example, facing the Heat and Bulls. Both times, they lost by two points.
Here are three ways the Knicks can make sure Saturday night's game at 7 p.m. doesn't come down to the last shot (with a cool off-the-court item at the end):
1. Dominate the first quarter. The Magic have a negative-3.2 average first-quarter scoring margin, which is third-worst in the NBA. The Knicks absolutely need to take control early, and that obviously starts with Carmelo Anthony on offense. He's first in the league, by a wide margin, in first-quarter scoring (9.9 points average). Kobe Bryant is second at 8.0. On defense, the tandem of Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby, who will be starting their second straight game together, should make stops. They'll be going up against a young and inexperienced frontline in center Nikola Vucevic and power forward Andrew Nicholson.
Defensively perimeter-wise, the Knicks will have their hands full with point guard Jameer Nelson, who had a season-high 32 points on Jan. 2 in a 96-94 loss to the Bulls. He shot 6-for-9 from downtown that night. In addition, Orlando's sixth man J.J. Redick can be a problem from deep. He's one of the best in the game at moving without the ball and releasing quickly, so the Knicks will have to monitor him at all times. If they can eliminate and contest the Magic's 3-point looks well, like they did on Thursday night in their win over the Spurs, they'll definitely have an advantage.
2. J.R. Swish! The Knicks' sixth man is coming off five consecutive games of 20 or more points for the first time in his eight-year career. In the Knicks' first win over Orlando back on Nov. 13, J.R. Smith had one of his best shooting nights, finishing 9-for-14 for 21 points, to go along with four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Expect another great all-around game from him tonight.
3. Can Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni continue to be aggressive? Both point guards did a better job of getting deeper lane penetration against the Spurs. That helped the Knicks swing the ball around better to more open shooters. That intensity, however, started on defense, which is where it all starts again tonight against the Magic. If they make stops, they'll build momentum, and that will then carry over well to offense. That's always the name of the game.
4. Amar'e Stoudemire's good deed. Tonight, he'll be honoring his late brother, Hazell (nicknamed "Big STAT"), by inviting 30 children from their hometown of Lake Wales, Florida, to watch the game. Stoudemire is providing transportation and tickets, and he will be meeting with them afterward to talk about smart life choices and getting an education. The event date was selected because Hazell’s birthday was January 4.
"I think of my brother and the knowledge he gave me every day," STAT said. "I hope by giving these children this unique experience, I will pay forward some of the positive impact Hazell made on me and my family."
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