With 12 games left in their season, there is little margin for error for the New York Knicks if they want to pin down the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks enter play Wednesday with a 1.5-game lead over Milwaukee for that final spot, but the Bucks are likely to beat visiting Cleveland on Wednesday night to trim that lead to a game.
Of course, the Knicks will have to clinch without either Jeremy Lin or Amare Stoudemire as both are expected out at least for the rest of the regular season with injuries.
The Magic are going to be in the playoffs, it’s just a matter of where. Entering Wednesday, the Magic are fifth in the East, but they are just a half-game behind No. 3 Indiana (Atlantic Division- leading Boston in sandwiched in between and no division winner can finish below No. 4.).
This game is the TNT opener this week but starts an hour earlier than normal at 7 p.m. ET.
How the Teams Enter
New York has won seven of its past 10 (7-3 ATS) but enters off a 112-104 loss at Indiana on Tuesday. The Knicks choked that one away, leading by 15 at the end of the third quarter but getting outscored 40-17 in the fourth – New York’s lack of depth without Lin and Stoudemire was evident. Carmelo Anthony scored a season-high 39 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Knicks, who are now 9-3 under Interim Coach Mike Woodson. The last time the Knicks lost a game when they led by 15 or more points entering the fourth quarter was Feb. 28, 2009.
The Magic are going the wrong direction amid rumors that Dwight Howard wants Coach Stan Van Gundy out after this season – Van Gundy is probably sick of the Howard circus and may quit regardless. Orlando lost, 102-95, at Detroit on Tuesday for its fourth straight loss (0-4 ATS), its longest skid of the season. But the loss was somewhat expected as the Magic played without three starters: Howard, point guard Jameer Nelson and forward Ryan Anderson – the team’s three leading scorers. Glen Davis, who started at center in Howard’s place, led Orlando with a
career-high 31 points. But the Magic were slaughtered on the boards (45-30) and in points in the paint (56-30) without Howard.
Betting Story Lines
As to Orlando’s trio of injured starters, Anderson certainly won’t play in this game with a sprained ankle. In fact, don’t look for him until early next week at the earliest. He’s the team’s main three-point shooter. I look for both Howard and Nelson to play with the team back at home. Howard has missed two games in a row with back spasms, while Nelson has a sore left calf but was mostly rested as a precaution. Nelson would again be replaced by Chris Duhon if he can’t play. Davis would start at center if Howard can’t go and Hedo Turkoglu would move to power forward, with Quentin Richardson at small forward.
Knicks guard J.R. Smith avoided a suspension stemming from flagrant foul 2 in the fourth quarter of that loss to Indiana. He threw Pacers guard Leandro Barbosa to the ground, was called for a flagrant and ejected Tuesday. Baron Davis, who starts for the Knicks at the point with Lin out, is bothered by a hamstring injury but he really has no choice but to play through it. But he’s not playing well, averaging 5.3 points and shooting just 6-for-22 from the field in the past three games. And the only Knicks win in those three is over a Cleveland team in a free-fall.
This is the third and final meeting of the season between the teams but the first time the Magic have hosted New York. The two just played March 28 at Madison Square Garden, with the Knicks winning, 108-86, as 1.5-point dogs; that was the start of this current four-game skid for Orlando and the Magic have allowed triple-digit points in all four. The Knicks, who didn’t have Lin or Stoudemire in that one, were down four after one quarter but New York outscored Orlando, 65-30, in the middle two quarters – including 21 straight points in the third quarter.
Anthony had 25 points, six assists and five rebounds for New York. Howard was practically invisible, however, with 12 points, five rebounds and six turnovers – he was a game-worst minus-36 in plus/minus rating. It was easily one of his three worst games of the year. Howard hasn’t seemed all that happy since agreeing to not opt-out of his contract this summer. There’s a report out now that he will only sign an extension if Van Gundy and the entire coaching staff are fired after this season.
Odds and Key Trends
Orlando opened as a 3.5-point favorite with the total at 189 on NBA odds. New York is 27-27 ATS overall and 10-16 on the road. Orlando is 28-26 ATS overall and 15-13 at home. ‘Over/ under’ records: NY 21-33, ORL 27-25-2.
New York is 4-0 ATS in its past four games after a loss. The Magic are 1-4 ATS in their past five games after a loss. The over is 9-0 in the Knicks’ past nine games vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 5-0 in Orlando’s past five games.
I hate picking Magic games because they can look like NBA Finalists one night (ask the Heat) but then be big steaming pile of you know what on other nights. But the Magic won’t want to suffer a season-high fifth straight loss and will remember being blown off the court a little over a week ago at MSG. Plus, the Knicks are terrible on the road at 9-17 (and having lost three straight). So – as long as Howard plays – give the points and take the over.