Denton: Magic Need to Decide How to Defend Melo

By John Denton
Dec. 23, 2013

ORLANDO – For an Orlando Magic team about the face the New York Knicks, the dilemma is this: To double or not to double.

If they double-team Carmelo Anthony – something that is almost a necessity because of the high-powered scoring abilities of the Knicks forward – New York has the kind of 3-point shooters to make the Magic pay from the outside. If they play Anthony straight up, he has the ability to simultaneously pour in 40 points and get the Magic’s frontline in foul trouble.

Orlando (8-19) has lost seven straight to New York (8-18), five of them coming in the Jacque Vaughn coaching era. During those last five games – four last season and an unsightly 121-83 defeat this season on Dec. 6 – the Knicks have won by an average of 16.8 points a game. They have won because Anthony has averaged 25.2 points against the Magic of late, and Knicks’ shooters have made 13.4 3-pointers on average against Orlando over the last five meetings.

``He’s an extremely versatile player and you just have to try to mix it up on him,’’ Magic guard Arron Afflalo said of the defense on Anthony. ``Sometimes he might command attention and sometimes you have to stay home and have some individual (defensive) pride.’’

Orlando is in the midst of its longest home stand of the season, but it has dropped the first two games at the Amway Center. Utah beat the Magic 86-82 on Wednesday and then Sacramento won 105-100 on Saturday at the Amway Center. After tonight’s game, the Magic will be off for Christmas before hosting the Detroit Pistons on Friday. After that, Orlando closes 2012 with home games against Atlanta (Sunday) and Golden State (Dec. 31).

The Magic will once again be without reserve guard E’Twaun Moore because of a deep thigh bruise, but they will otherwise be whole. Point guard Jameer Nelson is expected to play through a cold and Afflalo will go despite various nicks and bruises.

Orlando hopes to use 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward Tobias Harris and 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward Maurice Harkless on Anthony during the game. The hope is that their length and quickness can give Anthony fits when trying to post up so that they don’t have to double-team and leave New York’s shooters open for 3-point looks.

``It’s going to be a challenge because the guy can score as great as anybody in the NBA, but it’s a good challenge for me to test my game and for us to win this game,’’ said Harris, who did not play when the Magic last faced the Knicks on Dec. 6. ``They’re a team that can get really hot and the last time they played us they got a lot of three-balls. For us, it’s just about containing (Anthony) and contesting his shots.’’

The Magic actually led 31-28 after one quarter when they faced the Knicks in New York earlier this month, but they got outscored 31-23, 30-15 and 32-14 over the next three quarters. A big reason for the lopsided score was the Knicks hitting 17 of 34 3-point shots. And this time around, a large chunk of them came with Anthony out of the game. Six of New York’s first seven field goals of the second quarter were 3-point shots. Reserves J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. both made five 3-pointers – many of them coming at the end of Knicks’ fastbreaks.

Vaughn said the Magic will try to vary their defenses on Monday night so as to not leave Anthony in single coverage too much and not double team so often that New York is getting open looks from 3-point range.

``It’s a combination of both because (Anthony) could easily score 40 or 50 points on you and get you in foul trouble, and then we’ve seen games where those (3-point) guys make shots,’’ Vaughn said. ``We’ve seen game where Smith puts up double-digit 3-point shot attempts. Sometimes it just comes down to the feel of the game of whether those guys are making shots and how we’re defending one-on-one also.’’