Why the Knicks’ upcoming matchup vs Magic is a must-win game

NBA: Denver Nuggets at New York Knicks
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

They had a chance to steal a game in Houston. Then an egregious foul call in the final second took that chance away. Now losers in four of their last five games, the New York Knicks find themselves in a situation where they need to right the ship before the All-Star break.

New York has one more game before the league heads to Indiana for the All-Star festivities, which is Wednesday night against the Orlando Magic. Calling a game in mid-February a must-win may sound premature, but with a tight playoff race in the East, every game holds some significance. For the Knicks, the break can’t come sooner.

The Knicks are dealing with a surplus of injuries

Jalen Brunson is the only healthy starter as of now. They’re still waiting for an update on Donte DiVincenzo, who left Monday’s game against the Rockets after playing 41 of a possible 43 minutes prior to sustaining a hamstring injury.

OG Anunoby and Julius Randle are still at least two weeks away from returning. Mitchell Robinson is still working his way back from ankle surgery, and Isaiah Hartenstein has missed the last two games with an Achilles injury.

The surplus of injuries is having an impact on Brunson’s ability to get clean looks. He is still having big performances, as that is what All-Stars do, but opposing defenses are forcing the ball out of his hands more easily and making someone else beat them.

Teams are making Jalen Brunson work harder for buckets

Having Anunoby and Randle on the floor with Brunson took some attention off of him, which was a big factor in the point guard’s hyper-efficient shooting display he has put on this season.

Without another true on-ball threat out there, it has become easier for teams to swarm Brunson, which has impacted the offense dramatically. A good example is Feb. 3 against the Lakers, when the Knicks went scoreless for nearly eight minutes in the fourth quarter after Brunson faced numerous double teams.

They entered the quarter that night with a six-point lead but ended up losing by eight.

Not time for the Knicks to panic just yet

Is it time for the Knicks to press the panic button? No. The nine-game winning streak gave them some breathing room. However, it is important for them not to get complacent and erase all the good that came out of January.

Looking ahead to what their schedule looks like after the All-Star break, they open the stretch run with matchups against the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics, though Philadelphia will also be shorthanded as they will be without superstar big Joel Embiid after undergoing knee surgery.

The hope is that when March rolls around, Anunoby and Randle will be back in the lineup, but the last thing the Knicks will want to have to do is make up for lost ground as a result of their lengthy absences.

With a pesky Orlando team up next, the Knicks will look to enter the All-Star break with a little momentum for the stretch run, as well as get closer to full strength coming out of the break.

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