On Saturday, in the first contest of a five-game road trip, the New York Knicks (24-29) played an excellent first half, but collapsed and died in overtime against the Lakers. They have lost two in a row. A defeat tonight at the hands of the Utah Jazz (32-21) would complete the third circuit of one win followed by three losses, an ugly spiral despite its perfect pattern.
Utah finished first in the Western Conference last season but is not living up to expectations on this campaign. The West’s fourth-best have the league’s top-ranked offense, but they are pedestrian on defense and not so speedy (19th in pace).
Rudy Gobert has missed six games with a calf issue, and Utah has struggled without him. They have won only three of their last ten, including a five-game skid and losses to the Warriors, Suns (twice), Grizzlies, and Timberwolves. Tough competition, sure, but losses nonetheless. The Stifle Tower participated in Sunday’s practice, but was ruled out for tonight’s tilt. So, yes...there are a few cans of optimism juice remaining in my blue-and-orange cooler.
Tip-off’s at 9 p.m., hornblowers.
Mike Conley (6’1”, 175 lbs) is enjoying a career-best year from behind the arc, hitting 43%, good enough for fifth in the league. In his 15th season, the 34-year old has averaged 14.3 points and 5.2 assists. Kemba Walker (rest) is out for tonight, so expect Alec Burks to check Conley.
Kemba will sit tonight in Utah in first night of back to back. Plays tomorrow in Denver.— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) February 7, 2022
Donovan Mitchell (6’1”, 215 lbs) leads the Jazz in per game totals for points (25.5), assists (5.2), steals (1.6), minutes (33.2), and field goal attempts (20.4). Who would part with that production? Allegedly, however, he and Gobert have a tense relationship, which has fueled speculation that Spida will force a move out of Utah next off-season. And since he’s a native New Yorker who was once represented by Leon Rose, the Knicks are the top speculation destination. If New York doesn’t snag a top-flight point guard by the upcoming trade deadline, perhaps the front office is patiently awaiting a bigger prize in the summer.
Bojan Bogdanovic (6’7”, 226 lbs) has averaged 17.9 points and 4.3 rebounds in 51 games this season. The 32-year old wing adds to the perimeter firepower, shooting 38% from deep on 6.4 attempts. His counterpart, RJ Barrett, hit a triple with 8.7 seconds left in Los Angeles to send the game into overtime. He finished with a career-high 36 points, plus eight boards and five assists. He should have another robust evening against Bogdanovic, a mediocre defender.
Royce O’Neale (6’4”, 226 lbs) is a spot-up shooter averaging 7.5 points and five rebounds in 31 minutes per game. He hits 40% from deep on 3.6 attempts. Julius Randle wins this match-up.
Rudy Gobert (7’11”, 258 lbs) is king of the glass, with a league-best (and career-best) 15.1 boards per game. He is averaging 16 points per game, too, another career-high. Gobert sits behind only Myles Turner with 2.3 blocks per game. The French Rejection is Utah’s highest-paid player for good reason. Starting in his absence will Udoka Azubuike (6’10”, 280 lbs), a 22-year old Kansas product. The sophomore has played 26 career games, and started three. He averaged 9 points and 10.5 rebounds in his last two outings.
Mitchell Robinson hopes for a handsome payday soon and adding a dash of Gobert’s scoring potency would increase the heft of his bag. Mitch has played well lately and should dispatch Azubuike easily, despite the latter’s size.
Look for the Jazz to shoot from the perimeter and around the iron. They sit at the bottom of the league for mid-range shot attempts. Take heart, fans, because New York is actually sixth-best in contested threes per game. If the Knicks comport themselves as authoritatively as they did in the first 24 minutes of Saturday’s affair, these Jazz are toast, especially sans their gooey center. Otherwise, this could be an ugly outcome for our heroes.
Knicks by -4.
Vivint Arena. Salt Lake City. 9 p.m. Break their harmonicas, Knicks!