Effort was not the problem for the Orlando Magic in their 101-90 loss to the New York Knicks last Wednesday. Something else was off about the team.
With three days at home between their last game -- a stellar 18-point win over the Atlanta Hawks -- the Knicks seemed poised to build some positive momentum. Then the Knicks came and seemed to pull the rug from underneath them in a loss to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.
What seemed like a turning point for the Knicks last week has instead become a blip on an otherwise difficult season. New York hopes a return to Orlando on Monday at the Amway Center can get the team back on the right track.
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New York downsized against Orlando for their matchup last week, using Kristaps Porzingis at center for heavy minutes to pull Nikola Vucevic away from the basket. The Magic's ace defender, Aaron Gordon, got the draw on Carmelo Anthony, leaving a wing player to defend Lance Thomas or stay rooted in the paint.
The Knicks feasted on the Magic's poor perimeter play and lack of a paint presence throughout the first half, establishing a lead the Magic were never able to cut into.
Orlando could not figure out how to break New York's switching defense, shooting just 41 percent from the floor with a season-low 11 assists.
"We still have a big problem containing the basketball," Magic coach Frank Vogel said at practice the day after the loss to the Knicks. "Offensively, we had a bad shooting night and a bad passing night. That's frustrating.
"We need to be a great passing team to give ourselves the best chance to make shots. We didn't do that."
Orlando did respond, moving the ball well and attacking in an 110-99 win over the Miami Heat at home Friday.
The Magic showed they still have some work to do. After building a 17-point lead, Orlando squandered it, giving up a 36-point fourth quarter and a 3-pointer from Bojan Bogdanovic with 46 seconds left to give the Wizards the lead for good.
Orlando is still looking to build consistency, even as it gains confidence to end the season.
New York came out of that game Wednesday talking about their recommitment to defense. The Knicks indeed had a stellar defensive performance despite struggling on offense, especially in the second half.
That defensive effort did not carry over.
The Knicks lost 105-102 to the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, giving up 21 second-chance points and 43.9 percent shooting in the loss. After the game, Anthony complained the team failed to make the necessary adjustments offensively as they were defeated.
"We play the same way throughout the course of the game," Anthony told the New York Post. "And when teams make adjustments, we're still playing the same way as teams make those adjustments defensively."
Asking for defense against Golden State was probably a bit much. But New York held Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry in check -- going a combined 7 of 23. But the two caught fire in the second half in a 112-105 Warriors win at Madison Square Garden.