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Nobody is hotter on offense than the New York Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis, so Orlando’s first encounter with the 7-foot-3 forward might be coming at a bad time for the Magic.
After consecutive double-digit home losses, the Magic will attempt to stop Porzingis on Wednesday night when they host the surging Knicks.
Orlando (6-4) is off to a respectable start, but its last two games did not go well. The early-season surge was highlighted by a blowout win over the San Antonio Spurs on Oct. 27, but against the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics last weekend, little went right.
The Magic shot 40.7 percent and lost 105-83 to the Bulls on Friday night. The follow-up did not go any better, as Orlando shot 36.3 percent, missed 23 of 29 3-point attempts and wound up with a 104-88 loss to the Celtics.
Attempting to rebound from its first significant adversity of the season occurs just before Orlando starts a four-game West Coast swing that includes a visit to Golden State. The trip is part of a 10-game stretch in which the Magic will play just twice at home.
“It’s very important, especially because after that we go to the West Coast,” Orlando center Nikola Vucevic said of the New York game. “Those West Coast trips can be very tough and tricky, and we have some tough games to play over there. So, I think it would be very important for us just because we lost two and because we have this road trip.”
The Magic must devise an effective defensive strategy against Porzingis, who scored 28 points in the Knicks’ 118-113 home victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday.
Porzingis is averaging 30.2 points, second to Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo in the early scoring race, and he leads the league with seven 30-point games.
“He’s a tough matchup for sure,” Orlando forward Aaron Gordon said. “He’s so tall and can shoot the ball very well. (He’s) mobile, athletic. He’s a very good player, and he’s doing what New York needs him to do. I’m just going to go out there and make it difficult for him, take him out of his comfort zone, crowd him be athletic, run him up and down the court.”
Gordon, who at 6-9 is 6 inches shorter than Porzingis, will be part of Orlando’s attempts to stop the Latvian, especially on mid-range shots and on the perimeter. Porzingis is shooting 59.7 percent on shots between 10 and 19 feet and is a 38.8 percent 3-point shooter.
“It’s a nightmare trying to figure out a game plan how to stop him when he’s shooting the ball from 10 feet above everybody else’s head, whether it’s in the post or at the 3-point line,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. “Just a remarkable talent and one of the most unique guys in the league to try to game-plan for. We’ve just got to try to do our best.”
Porzingis’ surge is among the reasons why New York (6-4) owns the same record as Orlando, though it was a different path for the Knicks. New York dropped their first three games, but since a 110-89 loss at Boston on Oct. 24, they are 6-1.
New York is also proving to be tough in the fourth quarter. The Knicks came back from 19 down to beat Indiana by seven on Sunday and rallied from a 15-point deficit to beat Charlotte.
Porzingis scored 17 points in the fourth quarter Sunday, and Doug McDermott scored half of his 20 points in the final period Tuesday. In their last two fourth quarters, the Knicks outscored their opponents 71-36 while holding Indiana and Charlotte to a combined 32.5 percent shooting (14-for-43).
“We’re not giving up,” New York coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We’ve gotten down in some of these games, and it’s an emphasis like, ‘Hey, keep playing.’ The game is not always won or lost in the first or second quarter. It’s a 48-minute game. That’s why I’m happy for these guys.”
“We fought,” said Knicks forward Lance Thomas, who is a plus-41 in the last two games after playing both fourth quarters. “We scrapped. … We had a tough battle the other night with Indiana, and we had to come from behind to get the win. We had some resolve to come back.”
New York’s performance in the final quarter also keyed its last win in the series with Orlando, on March 6 in Florida. The Knicks held the Magic to 13 points on 18 percent shooting in the last 12 minutes and picked up a 113-105 victory.