The Knicks want to believe that everything will be different against Shaquille O'Neal in the playoffs. The Knicks hope it will be a different season by then. In the season being played right now, the Knicks aren't good enough to beat the Orlando Magic. And if they aren't good enough this season, they won't ever be.
It was only one game Tuesday night, but it was one that the Knicks themselves set up as a playoff game. And it was one they lost, 118-106. The Knicks nearly let the Magic go for 120 points and never made a serious run at the lead in the second half.
O'Neal scored 41 points. He is averaging 40.3 points against the Knicks this season, and not even Michael Jordan ever did that. Patrick Ewing scored 32 points and had 15 rebounds against O'Neal, and it still seemed as if O'Neal could do whatever he wanted.
Ewing was right to throw a fit after his third foul. It did seem as if O'Neal got away with murder underneath the boards, and Ewing got called for a couple of very cheap fouls the other way. O'Neal still got his points, and if he didn't get bench time at the end of the second and third quarters, would have gone for 50 this time.
The Knicks needed this game more than the Magic, and were not good enough to take it. The Magic was a better team in just about any phase of basketball you cared to discuss.
The Knicks didn't play defense and the Magic ran past them for rebounds all night when they weren't jumping over them for rebounds. The Knicks also didn't cover people like Dennis Scott on those occasions when Shaquille wasn't shooting over Ewing as if Ewing were a guard caught down low in some kind of switch.
The Knicks have no answer for O'Neal. He is almost 10 points better against them than against the rest of the league. David Robinson doesn't do this to the Knicks. Hakeem Olajuwon doesn't do it and neither does Charles Barkley. O'Neal does it all the time, in a breeze. It is difficult to see how this changes for the Knicks in June, if they are still playing in June.