After getting beat up by the Nets last night, the Jazz stick around New York for a matchup with the surging Knicks, who look to build off of the road trip’s momentum.
The New York Knicks (4-3) are riding high after winning the last two games of their road trip and going above .500, a mark that New York hasn’t reached this far into the season since the 2017–18 campaign. Both the Knicks’ Defensive Rating and three-point percentage are 10th-best in the NBA. They earned two closely fought victories in their last two games, and to extend their winning streak to three, they’ll have to continue their high level of play.
The Knicks will play the first of their two matchups against the Utah Jazz (4-3) tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden. The Jazz are returning the same roster that earned the Western Conference’s sixth seed last season. The Knicks and Jazz squared off twice last season, both of which were wire-to-wire Utah victories.
All-Star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell is still their go-to player—averaging a team-leading 21.7 points and 5.1 assists—but he has started this season off with cold shooting splits of 38.4% from the field and 34.4% from behind the arc. Conversely, Mike Conley has been shooting the lights out after a disappointing first season with the Jazz. The 14-year veteran is averaging 18.6 points per game on 46.4% field goal shooting while shooting 45.3% from beyond the arc and making 3.4 triples per game.
Defensive Player of the Year award-winner Rudy Gobert is still around. The French big man, fresh off his first All-Star game nod, averages 13.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, both of which rank in the top three in the league, as well as 13.9 points per game. The Jazz also boasts deft scorers Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson, swingmen Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale, and defensive-minded center Derrick Favors.
Utah is good on both sides of the ball. Their three-point shooting has been particularly effective, ranking sixth in made triples per game and 11th in three-point percentage. The Knicks have held their opponents to 29.5% on threes this season, the lowest mark in the league.
Quickley turning heads
The legend of Immanuel Quickley grows with every game. The rookie point guard’s sweet shooting and foul-drawing skills open up the floor and give him a very strong case to be the starting point guard. Quickley scored a career-best 16 points and led a comeback effort in the second half in New York’s victory over the Atlanta Hawks. He currently ranks sixth in points per game among rookies at an even 10.0.
IQ AGAIN pic.twitter.com/GW6BqkJc1f
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 5, 2021
Allowing Quickley to finish a close game shows the trust Tom Thibodeau has in the neophyte. Thibs’ coaching history shows he almost exclusively prefers veterans to rookies, especially those who are unproven. But with every game, Quickley proves his worth.
Quickley and backup shooting guard Austin Rivers have become a useful 1-2 punch off the bench, as both guards can shoot, pass and defend. The strong play of the “Quivers” duo has been more impressive than that of starters Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock. Having two proficient shooters in the backcourt has been crucial for New York, especially when they find themselves in close games.
‘Bockers on the mend
The Knicks have been without a big chunk of their team for the last few games. That trend may continue, as the team released an injury report on Tuesday. Kevin Knox, who has played in all of New York’s games so far this season, was listed as probable with a sore left knee. Dennis Smith Jr. and Omari Spellman are probable as well, and Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel are questionable.
Injury Report 1/6 vs. Utah: Probable –Knox II (sore left knee), Smith Jr. (contused left quad) & Spellman (sore right knee); Questionable – Burks (sprained left ankle) & Noel (sprained left ankle); Out – Ntilikina (sprained right knee) & Toppin (strained right calf).
— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) January 5, 2021
Frank Ntilikina will miss his fourth straight game. Obi Toppin will continue to sit out. The rookie and eighth overall selection of the 2020 draft hasn’t played since the Knicks’ season opener.
Reggie Bullock is questionable while the team announced on Wednesday morning Burks will be evaluated in 7-10 days due to his ankle sprain.
The abundance of absences has opened up more playing time for the rest of the Knicks, which has been mainly absorbed by R.J. Barrett and Julius Randle.
Big-time minutes for big-time players
Barrett and Randle respectively rank first and second in the league, with 38.7 and 38.4 minutes per game. New York’s leaders in total points also rank in the top five in total minutes in the league. Whether it’s a classic case of Thibodeau playing his best players heavy minutes, or the result of a bevy of injuries to reserves at their positions, Barrett and Randle are playing the best basketball of their careers.
Barrett’s per-game averages in points, rebounds, assists, and free throw attempts/makes/percentage are all up, and his turnovers are down. Randle is averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, three-point attempts/makes/percentage per game, and is nearly doubling his career-high in assists per game. They made history in New York’s last game, becoming the first Knicks duo since 1977 to each record 25 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists.