As the Knicks wrestle with a sub-.500 record, finding a consistent level of competitiveness has been a key objective. Thus far, it's been somewhat of a struggle. While they manage to compete against very talented contending teams, New York has difficulty putting up such an effort on a nightly basis, and is sometimes unable to take care of the victories that should come easier.
This was once again the case on Monday night, as the Knicks let the Orlando Magic run circles around them offensively all night long. Their defensive effort was feeble at best. While the Knicks managed to hover close all night long with a strong offensive outing themselves, they couldn't get the necessary stops when they needed them.
Despite boasting one of his stronger offensive outings as a Knick thus far, defensive anchor Robin Lopez couldn't slow down Magic big man Nikola Vucevic to save his life. The center attacked the basket (and Lopez) continuously, cashing in for easy buckets. Whereas Lopez struggled, it's difficult to say whether or not Kristaps Porzingis or even Kevin Seraphin would have had more success in the situation. Vucevic was a key factor for Orlando, and it's likely his own progress was the difference between winning and losing for the Knicks. He led all scorers with 26. Here are some other observations from the loss.
- Lance Thomas had the game of his life, tying a career-high 24 points on a perfect 9 of 9 from the field. Buckets don't come easy for Thomas, as every decision he makes is a result of reading the defense and reacting to the different opportunities he may be afforded with each possession. He's a very smart player, and should largely be credited for keeping the Knicks in the contest throughout the second half.
- When the Knicks have won, it's usually been in spite (and not because) of anything coach Derek Fisher does. But to his own credit, this was arguably Fisher's best-coached loss of his Knicks career. The team remained close because he continued to react, making the necessary substations to provide the Knicks with different boosts throughout the contest. Fisher proved not to be complacent in his lineup choices until the very end, when he opted to keep Jerian Grant and Lopez in too long late in the fourth. Remaining on the edge was a good way to be.
- Thomas helped the Madison Square Garden crowd stay alive throughout with some great hustle plays and key buckets, as did Lopez. The building erupted following blocks from Porzingis and an emphatic dunk from Grant. Continuing to work from behind is a difficult thing to do, but the Knicks played with heart and their fans were behind them.
- Carmelo Anthony had another strong game, scoring 23 on 10-of-17 shooting and dishing out six assists. He's learning to lean on his teammates, which makes things much easier for himself. He suffered a sprained ankle midway through, but continued to play, even as winced back up the court.