NBA Odds and Preview: Orlando Magic at New York Knicks

Nikola Vucevic is averaging 22.5 points per game over the Magic's last two contests while shooting above 50 percent from the floor in both affairs.
Nikola Vucevic is averaging 22.5 points per game over the Magic’s last two contests while shooting above 50 percent from the floor in both affairs.

Orlando Magic at New York Knicks
Time: 6:30 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: NYK -3
Total: 196.5

Betting odds c/o 5dimes

The Orlando Magic are coming off a tough, narrow loss to the Atlanta Hawks, and are turning around to travel from Orlando to New York less than 24 hours later.

The Knicks are likely licking their chops to get revenge on the Magic, and NBA oddsmakers favor Derek Fisher’s Knicks team by 3-points with a betting total set at 196.5.

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Orlando is a vastly improved team but it had a lot of trouble with a Hawks team far better than its 17-12 record would suggest. The Hawks put a virtual lid on the basket in the second quarter which saw the Magic manage just four points through the first eight minutes of the period. The 13 points the Magic scored in that quarter represented a season low.

The Magic would come out in the third quarter focused and more energetic, able to forge a 16-0 run behind the hot shooting of Evan Fournier who came to life in the second half after a run of disappointing games prior to Sunday night’s loss.

The Magic are ranked among the league’s best defenses with a No. 8 defensive rating while forcing 16.2 turnovers per game. Orlando has been able to get out and run, resulting in small forward Tobias Harris ranking No. 2 in the NBA in fast break points by a forward (trailing only LeBron James and in fact leading Kevin Durant).

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Orlando also ranks No. 12 in opponent’s three point percentage, a result of increased focus on that end and far better rotations than seen in the Jacque Vaughn/James Borrego era. Yes, Skiles has his team focused on being a top-5 defensive team, citing that 98 percent of the teams ranked in the top-5 in opponent’s field goal percentage have gone on to make the playoffs. That still remains a tough task for Orlando with the vastly improved Eastern Conference.

This may be the season that the East has all eight playoff teams playing plus-.500 basketball, and that comes much to the dismay of Magic fans who are eager to see this team make the postseason after missing it three consecutive years; in fact, no where close to earning the bid. The Magic were ranked No. 24 in defensive rating last season, and the turnaround has to be mostly attributed to Skiles with the roster essentially the same as last season; no core talents were lost.

The Magic still are hoping for better play from its two most recent high lottery picks, Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja. Gordon has played just 72 games thus far and resultantly is committing a lot of so-called “rookie mistakes.”

Mario has his flashes of pure brilliance, but has a long way to go in becoming a complete basketball player. Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in the 2015 draft, is still adjusting both to the NBA and life in America.

However, this is an unquestionable blue chip talent, a guy who has played professionally in Europe since he was just 12 years old (!). The Magic have a glut of talent, and will have some decisions to make this offseason with Evan Fournier being a free agent and Victor Oladipo due for an extension.

One will have to go, and the result then will be more minutes for a (hopefully) more ready Hezonja.

It is a nice problem to have too much talent to keep it all, but GM Rob Hennigan will have to hope he makes the right decision in how to further shape this roster. While the Magic have got solid play from both Andrew Nicholson and Channing Frye at the 4-spot, it is still Orlando’s weak link and missing out on Kristaps Porzingis in the draft still stings given how well the Latvian has fared thus far in New York.

Porzingis could feast on Orlando’s frontcourt, because truth be told many power forwards could. But not all power forwards are a LONG 7-foot-3 with the shooting touch of a guard and the agility to get crafty in the paint as well. He looks to be a future All-Star, and the Knicks future lies more on Porzingis than the ever-disappointing Carmelo Anthony.

For all Anthony is as a player, the closest he tasted to success was making the Western Conference Finals while playing for the Nuggets, and he has declined as a player since his time in Denver. The Knicks are a better team than expected at 14-14, but making the playoffs still could be a long shot of sorts.

The recent play may suggest otherwise, though, as the Knicks have a four-game win streak going with wins over the Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers and Chicago Bulls. Only the Bulls are a likely playoff team, though, and Orlando will represent another tough test with a talented rotation that is sure to give New York’s lackluster second unit problems especially.

Most eyes will be on Porzingis, though, as Magic fans likely lament him going the pick before Orlando was on the clock. Porzingis is averaging 13.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.75 blocks/steals per game. His defensive efforts may be the most pleasant surprise, but his offensive game is already far more refined than even the most astute scouts may have realized. It is also not often that a rookie posts a PER of 18.2, well above the average power forward (15 is the standard mark).

The Knicks should be able to take care of business against the Magic, notwithstanding that Orlando is a better team than New York. After a gut wrenching loss that took a lot out of the starters, the Magic will have to hope its depth is enough to counterbalance a starting lineup that may drag a little.

This second of a back-to-back could not be much tougher for the Magic, and Vegas oddsmakers rightfully recognize the difficulty of the second night of back to backs. Anthony could give Orlando intense problems, too, given that the forward spots are where Orlando is weakest defensively. Expect the Knicks to prevail by a small margin and move back over .500 and very much in the playoff chase thus far.

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