After a pair of frenetic fourth-quarter rallies to win games last week, the Knicks (7-6) were victims of one Monday night courtesy of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. New York squandered a 23-point lead in the second half as James scored or assisted on 28 of Cleveland’s 43 fourth-quarter points in their 104-101 loss.
“Up 23 points against the champions from two years ago, last year’s finalists, contenders, that’s great,” Tim Hardaway Jr. told The New York Post, before adding “it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t play all 48 minutes and we didn’t do that.” Hardaway had 28 points and 10 rebounds while Enes Kanter added 20 and 16. Kristaps Porzingis finished with 20 points on 7-of-21 shooting as the Knicks fell to 0-3 when he’s scored less than 28.
Utah (6-8) kick-off a four-game road trip with this game hoping that a change of venue will help end their struggles. The Jazz have lost five of six after a 109-98 defeat to Minnesota on Monday night.
Rookie Donovan Mitchell scored 24 points as Utah continue to adjust to playing without injured starting center Rudy Gobert. The Jazz attempted a season-high 40 3-pointers, making 14, and are 25 for 69 from deep in their first two games without their starting center, who is expected to miss at least a month.
Three keys to the game
Sometimes a sequel is better than the original - In his second go-round with the Knicks, Hardaway has become their second-ranked scorer and worth the surprising four-year, $71 million offer sheet they lured him away from Atlanta with. He's averaged 20.4 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 45.5 percent in his last nine games to lift his season mark to 40.7 percent.
Favors in the middle - Jazz coach Quin Snyder shifted Favors from power forward to center after Gobert's injury, and the 6' 10" Favors has played well on the offensive end. He has grabbed ten offensive rebounds in the two games and narrowly missed his second straight double-double Monday night. Favors, though, is in for a stern challenge against Kanter.
Steady Jack - Jarrett Jack hasn't scored in double figures since the 2015/16 season and before he tore his ACL while playing for the Brooklyn Nets. But the Knicks don't need him to score in this offense, which he has helped by valuing the basketball. Jack has averaged 5.8 assists in ten games since entering the starting lineup, but what also stands out is his 3.05 assist-to-turnover ratio. At some point, he will need to shoot more to keep defenses honest, but right now Jack is making sure the Knicks hum offensively.
Matchup to watch
PF Jonas Jerebko vs. PF Kristaps Porzingis - This is a tough spot for Jerebko, who made his first start of the season in Monday's defeat. His defensive rating of 115.9 points allowed per 100 possessions is a cause for concern since Porzingis leads the NBA with a 35.5 percent usage rate and will touch the ball virtually every possession. Besides Jerebko, expect Ekpe Udoh to get minutes against Porzingis, or possibly play center so Favors can slide back to his natural forward position defensively to slow Porzingis.
Utah Jazz projected starting lineup
PG - Ricky Rubio | SG - Donovan Mitchell | C - Derrick Favors | SF - Joe Ingles | PF - Jonas Jerebko
While Ricky Rubio is averaging a career-high 11.4 shot attempts, his shot is still hit and miss. He's averaged 5.7 points while shooting 5 of 21 in his last three games, dropping his scoring average to 13.6 points while shooting 37.9 percent. Rubio has totaled 9.2 points, 8.8 assists and 2.7 steals per game in nine lifetime games versus New York.
Mitchell will continue aggressively hunting his shot now that he's in the starting lineup and is 20 for 37 his last two games to bump his shooting percentage up to 38.1. The big key for him is getting into the lane as he went 13 of 17 from ten feet and closer.
Porzingis totaled 52 points and 15 rebounds in the two games against Utah last season while making 6 of 14 from 3-point range. Hardaway has averaged just 6.7 points in six games versus the Jazz but did score 14 in his most recent matchup against them.
Kanter is seeking his third straight double-double but hasn't had one in his last eight matchups with the Jazz, averaging 13.1 points and 5.8 boards while shooting 57.5 percent.
The Knicks are four-point favorites, which seems somewhat low given the Jazz's transition offensively to a perimeter-based one without Gobert and their recent struggles. New York have covered in their last five home games and are 10-2 against the spread in their last 12 at home versus Utah.
Utah are also 1-5 against the spread in their last six games and 1-4 against teams with a straight-up winning record. The Jazz have also struggled to cover against Eastern Conference rivals, going 2-6 in their last eight against those and 2-6-1 in their last nine versus Atlantic Division teams.
The over/under has jumped four points to 205 since its opening, which is interesting since the Knicks have gone over that in their previous seven games before hitting it exactly versus Cleveland. Utah have gone over 200 points just once in their four road games, and that was against a Houston team that speeds up play.
This game is about a test of maturity for the Knicks. It is about how they bounce back from a disheartening loss from a game they should have won and also how consistently they exploit the obvious mismatch Porzingis has on the offensive end. If Porzingis doesn't score at least 30 in this game, then his teammates haven't done a good enough job getting him the ball. This may be a tough contest for Mitchell to get going with Kanter and Porzingis clogging the paint defensively, and the Jazz will need Rubio to hit shots to keep the Knicks honest. Ultimately, this is a game where the Knicks have too much offense behind Porzingis and should post a 109-98 win.
The game will be televised locally on MSG Network and AT&T SportsNet - Rocky Mountain. Tip-off time is 7:30 pm EST.
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