The Utah Jazz head back home from the road trip to take on the log-jammed New York Knicks
The Utah Jazz are fresh off the heels of a perfect 3-0 road trip. Having won 11 of their last 12 including six straight, the Utah Jazz are starting to become the team we all thought they would be when they added new pieces last summer.
Thanks to this recent hot stretch the team is rising in several metrics, sitting at 17th in offensive efficiency (previously 22nd) and ninth in defensive efficiency (previously 10th). If they continue to play like they have the past month then they have a chance to get both ratings in the top 10.
According to the RAPTOR rating from FiveThirtyEight.com, the Utah Jazz are projected to finish fourth in the west at 53-29 and face the Denver Nuggets in the opening round of the playoffs. About a month ago the RAPTOR refused to project more than 48 wins and the sixth seed for the Jazz, and look where they are now.
As for the New York Knicks, they were predicted to be a disaster this season. They had one of the worst starts in franchise history, going 4-18 in their first 22 games. They fired their head coach David Fizdale and got blasted by nearly everyone in the news for being a dysfunctional team.
They headed into the 2019 offseason with the goal of landing one or both of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Instead they came up empty-handed, and to make matters worse, Irving and Durant chose to sign with the team across the neighborhood in Brooklyn.
The Knicks used up all their cap space doubling down on veteran forwards, creating a massive logjam and headache in the locker room. It was only preseason, and there were already rumors of players being upset with their roles. That’s how bad it was.
However, since they have fired David Fizdale the Knicks have gone 6-9, including 5-7 in their last 12 games. They’ve blown out the Atlanta Hawks twice this season, they nearly upset the full-strength Los Angeles Clippers, and have stayed competitive in their games recently.
Will it matter much in the future when their young players are up for contract extensions? Time will tell if Mitchell Robinson (second round draft steal), Kevin Knox (drafted ninth overall) and RJ Barrett (drafted third overall) will have their development stunted from the team choosing to sign veterans instead of just playing the young guys.
The keys to this game will be the Jazz taking advantage of the tired Knicks, who will be on the back end of a back to back. New York is wrapping up a four game road trip, and I’d expect them to be spent after playing both the Lakers and Clippers within that four game span.
In order to do that Utah needs a bounce back game from Donovan Mitchell, who had a quiet 19 points against the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Knicks allow their opponents to shoot the second highest percentage from three point range, and the Jazz are the most efficient three point shooting team in the league, so look for the Jazz to be in attack mode from downtown.
If shots are falling from beyond the arc, that should get the blender offense going and create some open lanes for Donovan Mitchell to go to work. Given that he’s due for a bounce back game, and given that the Knicks don’t have an elite rim protector, look for Mitchell to go off for 30+ points.
One area the Jazz most not underestimate the Knicks in is their bench play. The only benefit of the Knicks creating a logjam is the benefit of depth, and ability to play their bench more minutes. Their bench has played the fifth most amount of minutes this season, and the Jazz are still sitting in the bottom three for bench minutes played.
Another thing the Jazz can’t overlook is RJ Barrett. The rookie is being stretched this year as a starter on a bad team, and it certainly shows in his shooting efficiency (or lack of).
However, he was a big reason why the Knicks were able to push the Clippers for a full 48 minutes and nearly steal the game. He finished that contest with 24 points and six rebounds, so the Jazz can’t afford for him to go off.
Tip-off: 7:00 PM on January 8 from Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, UT.
TV: AT&T SportsNet, stream the game on Fubo.tv
Radio: The Zone Sports Network (97.5 FM and 1280 AM Salt Lake City)
Projected Starting Lineups
Utah Jazz Position New York Knicks
Joe Ingles SG RJ Barrett
Donovan Mitchell PG Elfrid Payton
Mike Conley is still listed as out for his availability. It has been five weeks since he left the 76ers game early with hamstring tightness, and three weeks since he re-aggravated it in his return to the court.
Conley has played a 80 or more games just four times in his 12 year career, and one of my concerns when the Utah Jazz initially acquired him was his durability for a long season and long playoff run. At 32 years old, the Jazz need to take the proper precautions in order to have Conley 100 percent healthy come playoff time. This time of him being held out could be a blessing in a disguise.
As for the Knicks, they got Elfrid Payton back on the court last night after the birth of his child. Marcus Morris and Dennis Smith were held out in last night’s bout with the Lakers thanks to a sore neck and strained left oblique. It’s hard to say if either will be available tonight.
What could be a big X-factor to how this game plays out is the availability of Marcus Morris. If he plays, the Jazz have one more offensive weapon to worry about and will have to expend more energy defensively.
Over at The Action Network, the Jazz are listed as heavy 12.5 point favorites. I’m also feeling bullish on the Jazz tonight, so I predict they will win by the score of 101 to 113.
If you’re looking for some great live-game discussion, the comment thread below is always popping on game game night. You can also hop on Twitter using the #NYKatUTA hashtag. Go Jazz!