By John Schmeelk
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On Monday night, the Knicks took on a good Orlando Magic team, played well, but weren’t quite good enough to win.

The Magic just kept making shots, and the Knicks couldn’t keep pace. The faults that led to the loss were many of the same ones that were concerns at the start of the season.

The problem begins with point guard defense. The Knicks could not contain Orlando’s penetrating guards, and their pick-and-roll defense was poor. Derek Fisher got so desperate he went with Jerian Grant down the stretch, despite the fact he had been out of the rotation. Grant made some typical rookie mistakes on both ends that played a big role in the Knicks failing late.

That brings up another issue that was a worry to start the season: Fisher’s rotations. For some reason, Fisher decided to stick with Grant despite the fact that an even better defender and steadier decision maker, Langston Galloway, was well rested and ready to contribute. Perhaps if Grant had been playing more regularly he would have been more prepared for crunch time. It was an odd decision that came completely out of left field.

Fisher also decided to go with Robin Lopez late in the game, even though he had struggled guarding Nikola Vucevic (26 points). Fisher stuck with him in the middle instead of trying Kristaps Porzingis who had guarded the rim against penetrators well the entire game. Even though Lopez was 6-for-6 from the field, he was a liability defensively in the post and on the pick and roll.

Fisher has made a lot of improvements this season. His defensive principles have gotten much better, the offense is less stagnant, and he is trying to get the team to run more. Most importantly, the team plays hard for him. But his rotations are still inconsistent and he doesn’t exercise good judgment in determining the best matchups at the end of games. These are things he can still learn and improve upon as the season goes along.

Lance Thomas was the star of the Knicks’ resurgent bench, shooting 9-for-9 from the field, including 3-for-3 from behind the arc. He finished with 24 points and played his normal tough defense. Thomas has developed into one of the most important players on the Knicks’ roster. He is their most versatile and defensive forward and has developed into a very consistent shooter. If he continues to shoot at this rate he might get a very big raise this offseason, either from the Knicks or someone else.

On most nights, a game like that from Thomas would turn into a win. But the Knicks didn’t have anyone else help in the scoring column except for Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 23 points and six assists. Arron Afflalo has been hot recently and has served as an effective secondary scorer to Anthony, but he, like Porzingis, struggled Monday night. The Knicks are still in search of a consistent second scorer to take some of the scoring load off of Anthony on most nights.

Monday’s loss marked the start of a 10-game stretch for the Knicks against teams currently with winning records. They are going to have to figure out a way to solve the above problems if they want to take that next step and become a consistent winning team.

Until then, the Knicks are going to be exactly what we thought they would be at the start of the season: a young, inconsistent team that will struggle to get to .500. However, in an Eastern Conference that is much better than it has been for years, that won’t be good enough to make the playoffs.

Schmeelk’s Snippets

  • Kyle O’Quinn is a significantly better player than Kevin Seraphin, and the sooner he returns from that ankle injury the better off the Knicks will be. Seraphin can score in the post, but he doesn’t do much else that’s helpful.
  • I’m happy Grant is back in the rotation, but Fisher really threw him into the deep end of the pool later in the game. He did flash his ability to drive in the fourth quarter, and was effective in some pick-and-roll sets. He should continue to get playing time.
  • Porzingis is in a serious shooting slump, but he is still helping the team with his rim protection, rebounding, and willingness to move the ball. I wonder if it is tired legs or just a lack of confidence. The coach could do a better job designing plays for him as well.
  • Anthony continues to play good, team-oriented basketball. He is moving the ball well, and is getting his teammates involved on a regular basis.

For everything Knicks and Giants, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk

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