Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz are one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now. They host the Knicks, who finish their four-game west coast road trip.
The New York Knicks (8-10) are making one last stop before heading back east.
The Knicks are in Salt Lake City for a rematch with the Utah Jazz (12-4). Both teams previously met on January 6th at Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks came back and pulled off a 112-100 victory.
The Jazz will be hungry for revenge. Since that loss to the Knicks, Utah tightened things up and is currently riding an eight-game winning streak that’s highlighted by wins over Milwaukee, Atlanta, Denver, and Golden State.
Meanwhile, the Knicks are looking to get back in the win column, after dropping back-to-back games against Sacramento and Portland. They most recently lost a close 116-113 battle to the Trail Blazers on Sunday.
Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday night.
Shaq said what?
An awkward post-game exchange between Shaquille O’Neal and Utah star Donovan Mitchell went viral last week right after Mitchell dropped 36 points, seven boards, and five assists in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Even with the impressive all-around game, Shaq didn’t seem all that amused. Maybe it was Shaq trying to motivate Mitchell or maybe he thinks he really “doesn’t have what it takes to go to the next level.” Regardless, Mitchell has good reason to just take it to the chin like he did and play on.
Donovan's response when Shaq tells him he doesn't have what it takes to get to the next level:
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 22, 2021
Although Mitchell dealt with some issues with shooting efficiency to begin the season, it seems like he’s put it behind him. Through the first four games this season, he looked like a volume scorer, averaging 21.0 points while shooting 34.1% overall and 29.7% from long range.
Since then, he’s cleaned up his play on the floor. Mitchell has been a catalyst during Utah’s eight-game winning streak, contributing in nearly every facet of the game.
Over the last eight games, he’s averaging 27.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. He’s shooting 51.0% overall and a blistering 50.0% from beyond the arc during this stretch.
While there’s still plenty of basketball left to be played, Mitchell and the Jazz have the second-best record in the NBA, only a half-game behind the 13-4 Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers.
He’ll be the focal point of the Knicks’ defensive efforts, and New York will try to channel that same energy from their January 6th meeting. In that game, Mitchell only had 18 points and went cold for most of the game, shooting 8-of-23 overall and an ugly 2-for-10 from deep. This doesn’t appear to be the same Jazz team as before, so the Knicks will have to be ready to grind another one out.
Scouting the rest of the band
Outside of Mitchell, the Jazz frontman, seven-foot center Rudy Gobert gave the Knicks fits the last time out. The defensive stalwart stopped drives to the baskets and imposed himself in the paint, finishing with 14 points, 11 boards, and five blocks. The Knicks looked out of sync offensively with Gobert in the way, until they managed to turn things around in the second half.
Jordan Clarkson is emerging as an early NBA Sixth Man of the Year contender in his second season with the Jazz. He’s on pace to set a career-high scoring average. Clarkson currently has 17.4 points per game off the bench and is shooting 40.9% from deep. Against the Knicks, he provided a spark for the Jazz and seemed to be one of the very few to get into a rhythm offensively, providing a team-high 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting in the early-January loss.
Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic are perimeter scoring threats, although the latter is seeing a dip in production early on in the year. Last season, the 6-foot-8 wing arrived in Utah and averaged 20.2 points per game, and shot 41.4% from long range. However, this season, he’s only averaging 13.5 points and shooting at a 37.4% clip from the three-point line.
Keys for the Knicks
With the way Utah is playing, New York can’t afford any sluggish starts this time around. It’s unlikely that the Jazz will allow another game to slip away from them or let the Knicks back into the game for a second time around.
The defense has been the backbone for the Knicks so far, and it was vital in their comeback efforts the last time out. New York made point guard Mike Conley a non-factor. It pressured Conley and other ball-handlers to make poor decisions and cough up the ball 14 times. For a team that doesn’t have too many players that can create their own shot, outside of Mitchell, Utah had a hard time getting itself going on the scoring end, as the Knicks never allowed them to get comfortable in the second half and started to buckle down defensively to pave the way for the comeback.
The Knicks will need to replicate that same pressure on Utah ball-handlers and put together a similar defensive effort for all four quarters—instead of saving themselves in the second half. They should also aim to slow down Mitchell. New York didn’t do a great job containing Damian Lillard in its previous game on Sunday, and it will need to regroup against another All-Star caliber guard on Tuesday night.
Also, let’s see if R.J. Barrett can bounce back after his quietest performance of the season. He only had eight points, four boards, and two assists through 23 minutes against the Blazers, but fortunately for the Knicks, Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley were able to step up to help Julius Randle and give their team a fighting chance.
Lastly, what else would help in getting the Knicks off to a good start, particularly on the offensive end? Starting Quickley, but you knew that already.
He was one of the few bright spots in the Knicks’ loss to the Blazers. It’s crazy to think that he only logged six minutes in that win against the Jazz earlier in the season, even crazier to think that he still doesn’t have the starting nod over Elfrid Payton.
Maybe that changes on Tuesday night.