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Game Preview: Jazz at Knicks — 02/11/23

New York look to make it two wins in a row at MSG

NBA: New York Knicks at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

When I was 10 my family moved from Uniondale, a town 20 miles outside NYC, to Webster, 320 miles away. The world was far less connected then than now, so the differences were starker. The house we’d bought cost the same as the one we sold, but was more than twice as large. The place we left was rich in diversity; where we moved was whiter than Kokomo Beach.

The differences in dialect were wild. One day in class a kid said something that sounded dope, so I said “Dope.” I was summoned to meet with the teacher afterward because the kid told her I’d called him a dope. When I asked what music people listened to, they named bands I’d never listened to because they were obviously Satanic death metal, e.g. Guns ‘N’ Roses and Metallica. Whenever someone mentioned one of these bands, they’d say that band “ruled.” I was lost. Where did they rule? By what right did they rule over others? What were the people’s options if they proved to be bad rulers? Three years later, in junior high, “dope” entered our school’s lexicon and I came to learn what millions have over the years: much of the U.S. lags behind NYC culturally.

Turns out there’s a sports lag, too, as later this evening the New York Knicks host the Utah Jazz, or to put it numerically, 2023 hosts 2019. The Jazz are this year where the Knicks were four years ago: looking 4-5 years ahead. After years with good teams that never quite broke through, Utah traded franchise cornerstones Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell for a whole lotta scratch-off tickets. They seemed set for a season of Ls and new hopes. Instead they won 10 of their first 13 games, a run that’s kept them in range of a play-in spot, if they want it. Reader, they don’t.

That’s because the Jazz, like a lot of NBA teams, are a scam, yet another “small-market” team owned by a billionaire whose Manifest Destiny is profit profit profit, at the expense of the freedom of young men who, like many young Americans, would never move to Salt Lake City if only they had a choice. Reader, they don’t. Thus the double-standard: if a player doesn’t play up to par, or gets hurt, the player will be traded, cut or let go. Even if the player does do a good job, they could be traded. That’s how the market works.

And if that small-market team doesn’t draw interest from players the way bigger markets or better-run ones do? If they can’t compete in free agency and can only stay alive by vampirically drinking the life force of young draftees with zero agency, what consequence do they face? None. The league “needs” these smaller markets to flourish; even the big teams, we’re told, would suffer if clubs like Utah disappeared. I say: let’s see. Capitalism gives us towns with eight Family Dollars and no after-school programs for our kids, ‘cuz money talks. Starbucks will open three stores within five minutes of each other for the purpose of putting local cafes out of business; once that’s done, two of the Starbucks close and the endgame is clear as day: money talks. 10 years ago I lived in a two-bedroom in NYC (Inwood) for $2K a month; today that won’t get you two weeks in a studio. If we can live without health care, or affordable housing, or a clean environment or even honesty about how polluted and unsafe it is, we can live without a franchise that thinks paying the homeless to clean up after games is something to brag about.

The Jazz aren’t trying to win this year, certainly not at the level they did the past few years. Have they lowered ticket costs, parking, concessions, etc., to reflect the inferior product they’re selling? Or do they need some homeless accountant to break the numbers down first?

Utah traded Mike Conley, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Nickeil Alexander-Walker at the deadline. In return they acquired the L.A. Lakers’ 1st-round pick in 2027 (top-4 protected), plus Russell Westbrook, Damian Jones and Juan Toscano-Anderson, the latter so Talen Horton-Tucker doesn’t have to be the only hyphenated ex-Laker on the roster. They’re still just a game under .500 and in the 10th and final play-in spot. Lauri Markkanen, acquired in the Mitchell trade, has blossomed beyond anyone’s hopes into an All-Star. Collin Sexton’s put up career-best shooting from the field and from 3. Those two are 25 and 24 years old. Pair them with a Victor Wembanyama and soon you’ll be able to underpay the unhoused to clean the arena well into May, maybe even June.

The Knicks, thankfully, are a long way from 2019. They’re a good team now and looking to level up. Josh Hart is expeced to make his Garden debut tonight. The Knicks are looking to get back on track at home, where it’s been over a month since they won consecutive games. Westbrook will not play in this one; Toscano-Anderson and Jones are questionable, as is Utah’s second-leading scorer, Jordan Clarkson.

New York’s last two games between tonight and the All-Star break are road tilts against teams they could be battling for playoff seeding in Brooklyn and Atlanta. So they really do wanna take care of business tonight and beat a shorthanded team on the second end of a back-to-back in the midst of a four-game road trip. See ya then, loves.