With Vucevic & Gordon Returning, Magic Will Keep Knicks Spiraling

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 6:09 PM UTC

Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 6:09 PM UTC

The Orlando Magic are set to return two of their best players Thursday night out of the All-Star break as they welcome the New York Knicks to central Florida.

New York Knicks (23-36, 28-31 ATS) at Orlando Magic (18-39, 27-29 ATS)Free NBA Pick: MagicBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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The NBA comes out of its week-long All-Star break Thursday with six games. Knicks-Magic (7 p.m. ET) isn’t exactly the best of them with both teams in tank mode the rest of the way – New York might be the biggest fade candidate the rest of the season without injured superstar Kristaps Porzingis.

It’s the third of four meetings between the teams with Orlando visiting Madison Square Garden on April 3. The Magic lead the series 2-0, not having to deal with Porzingis either time. On Nov. 8, the Knicks lost 112-99 at the Magic. Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic led three 20-point scorers with 24 points – more on him in a second. Elfrid Payton had 11 points, 11 assists and six rebounds but he’s now with Phoenix. Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Knicks with 26 points.

On Dec. 3 in Manhattan, the Magic prevailed 105-100. Vucevic had 34 points and 12 rebounds, and Payton added 15 points, six rebounds and five assists. Hardaway Jr. was hurt then along with Porzingis. Michael Beasley led the Knicks with 21 points. Enes Kanter had 18 points and 16 rebounds.

The Magic have won eight of the past 14 in the series overall. The Knicks have covered eight of their past 12 in O-Town, but these Knicks are a lot different.

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Tanks A Lot!

Let’s be clear here that it benefits both teams to lose as much as possible in the second half to get as many ping-pong balls in the draft lottery as possible. At 18-39, Orlando currently has the fourth-worst winning percentage in the NBA, while New York at 23-36 has the ninth-worst.

That said, the Knicks look like they will be the much worse of the two going forward as they enter on an eight-game losing streak. The first four of those were with Porzingis in the lineup, but he tore his ACL on Feb. 6 vs. the Bucks. New York has lost by fewer than eight points just once in four games since. Coach Jeff Hornacek has gone on the record saying younger players will get more minutes the rest of the season. That means Frank Ntilikina, Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay, Damyean Dotson, Luke Kornet and Isaiah Hicks. If you have barely heard of the last three guys, well, join the club.

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BIG SHOUTOUT @spidadmitchell for winning the dunk contest!!! Well done Brody. #morethanadunker

— Aaron Gordon (@Double0AG) February 18, 2018

The Magic, meanwhile, will get arguably their two best players back from long injury absences Thursday in forward Aaron Gordon and their center Vucevic – both might have been traded had they not been hurt. Vucevic went down Dec. 23 with a fractured bone in his left hand and Gordon suffered a hip flexor Jan. 27. Gordon, who had to pull out of the All-Star Slam Dunk Contest (won by his replacement Donovan Mitchell) leads the team in scoring at 18.4 ppg and is second in rebounding (8.3 rpg), while Vucevic is first in rebounding (9.3 rpg) and third in scoring (17.4 ppg). The Magic were 4-5 in the nine games that Gordon missed and were 11-23 overall after losing the last game in which Vucevic played.

Orlando is 0-3 since giving Payton away to Phoenix for just a second-round pick at the Feb. 8 trade deadline, but two of those losses were very close. Veteran D.J. Augustin has been starting at the point.

New York has covered just once in its eight-game skid, while the Magic have been a great bet for a few weeks in covering 13 of their past 16. With Gordon and Vucevic back, Orlando is a clear-cut Thursday NBA pick.

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